THAI SOLIDARITY: Drug user activists tackle the Thai terror

Issue 

BY MICHAEL ARNOLD

"End the drug war now" say needle nymphs in New York, methed-up militants in Moscow, direct-action druggists in Darwin, cranked-out campaigners in Canberra and global goodie-gobblers.

On June 12, drug user activists, non-user supporters of drug law reform and human rights campaigners came together in cities around the globe to protest the Thai government's drug war.

More than 2000 drug users and "dealers" have been killed in the six-month campaign. Children and family members of targeted users have died or been badly maimed by getting caught in the line of fire.

Police monitoring and early morning raids have touched the lives of around 40,000 Thais. The government is forcing people, without trial, into what it calls "detoxification and rehabilitation". Users are subjected to torturous, generally unmedicated, withdrawals — at one "camp" users were kept chained by their hands and feet 24 hours a day, for a month.

For years, drug users have been fighting for social justice, better health services, law reform and an end to the US-led war on drug users. When users around the world face abuses as severe as the situation in Thailand, we know the chances of similar atrocities being visited on us are higher. We will offer solidarity to our brothers and sisters overseas, knowing it will be returned for our struggles.

The policies in Thailand are unprecedented in their terror — and have been responded to with unprecedented user organisation, coordination and activity.

From Bangkok, Karyn reports that in the days leading up to and following [the] June 12 [actions], press releases, letters to Thai PM Thaksin [Shinawatra], photos, and other updates about international actions in solidarity with Thai Drug Users' Network flowed into its centres. Messages were recieved from Japan to Manipur, Germany to Darwin, New York to Sydney, and London to Cambodia.

TDN says: "Thank you!! We felt you with us. We thought of you often and your spirit fed our spirit."

On the morning of June 12, more than 60 TDN members and allies, primarily members of the Thai Network of People Living With HIV and AIDS and the Thai NGO, Coalition on AIDS, gathered in the Bangkok heat. Starting across from Government House on Pitsanuloke Road, the protesters crossed the road toward the military guards, carrying body bags, funeral accoutrements, banners and signs.

The signs included slogans like "The next corpse could be... your relative" and "Does forced rehabilitation really work, Mr Prime Minister?" Bangkok traffic provided a great audience, and news cameras and reporters trailed the parade.

Ten of the protesters were invited to present the groups' letter, intended for the prime minister, who was out of town. Instead, they met with four individuals from the national task force on drugs, including a representative from the office of narcotics control bureau and someone responsible for public health issues.

After nearly an hour's discussion, the task force representatives agreed to set up a meeting between the activists and the deputy prime minister. From Government House, protesters went to Parliament, where Senator Jon Ungphakorn received the letter.

No Thai press reported the protest, though on June 10 the local English-language Nation, had run a story on it.

In Sydney, the NSW Users & AIDS Association (NUAA) sponsored a briefing prepared and delivered by Stephen Wye, editor of Users News. Wye recently spent just under three months in Chiang Mai, collaborating with Thai drug users and doing volunteer work for the International Harm Reduction conference. The briefing was attended by 25 user-activists, drug law reform campaigners and service providers.

Later that day, drug-user activists, gathered by a front-group under the mysterious heading of FLUID — Front for the Liberation of Users of Illicit Drugs — held a picket outside the Thai consulate-general in Sydney.

The deputy-consul general invited picketers to meet with him in his office, saying that his willingness to listen meant "there is no need for protest." Activists stressed that the Thai government should listen to Thai drug users and involve them in policy making.

From Melbourne, Joe Kim reports that 40 people attended a fundraiser for the Thai Drug Users Network. Organised by the recently formed Victorian Harm Reduction Alliance, the brought together people from all walks of life who use illicit and licit drugs. People nodded, smiled, laughed, drank, smoked, slurred their speech, shook their heads to the music, felt restless, talked incessantly, and more, all within the confines of a safe space.

Pier Moro and Joseph Kim spoke on behalf the alliance and Din of Inequity, Plastic Shake-Up Snow, and the funky female DJ Sneelock performed.

From Darwin, Nicolette reports that the Network Against Prohibition held a public forum on July 11. Gary Meyerhoff gave a short informal presentation to summarize his recent experiences in Thailand developing solidarity with drug user activists there.

The next day, NAP members held an information stall in the busy Smith Street Mall. An official NAP delegation attempted to present a petition to Liberal MP David Tollner calling on the Australian government to help end the Thai drug war.

NAP also held a banner drop on July 13.

From Canberra, Nicky Bath reports that 30 people were joined by two local politicians in a solidarity protest on July 12. Nicole, from Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy, read out the TDN letter.

From London, Sandra reports that around 20 people held a solidarity action. Actions wee also held in Birmingham where a copy of the TDN letter was presented to officials at the Thai embassy.

From Moscow, Vitalik reports that two dozen activists, including members of the Radical Party, maintained a picket, chanting and displaying slogans. Photos can be viewed at <http://www.radikaly.ru/news/?text=2703>.

From New York City, Donald Grove explained that "30 people came to the Thai Mission to the United Nations for an action organized by ACT UP. We displayed signs and chanted: "Clean Needles not bullets! AIDS treatment not bullets!", "War on Drug is a lie! Thai cops kill, users die!" and, in Thai "Mai ka pu sep ya! (Stop murdering drug users)" The demands of TDN were read out to the crowd, and a letter was delivered to the head of the Thai UN delegation.

From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.

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