An activist folk band who went into hiding in Laos have arrived in Paris to apply for asylum in France, a band member and activist said Saturday, after months living in fear of their safety.
Laos, which neighbors Thailand, became a haven after a 2014 coup for some of the most outspoken Thai anti-junta activists, some of whom have been accused of criticizing the Thai monarchy.
The unassailable institution is protected by one of the world’s toughest royal defamation laws, under which anyone who insults or defames the monarchy can be jailed for up to 15 years on each charge.
Activist folk band Faiyen — who have campaigned to abolish the lese majeste laws — crossed the border to avoid a summons by the junta and have lived in fear, believing that they are on a hit-list.
But in late July, the band received a special visa from France, which allows them to travel to Paris to jumpstart an asylum application process, said Junya Yimprasert, a Thai activist travelling with them.
“The process to apply for status would have to be done in France,” she told AFP, adding that it would take six months to a year.
“They are already planning their first street performance at the Place de la Republique,” she added.
A Faiyen band member said it felt great to leave Laos, where they received innumerable online death threats.
The band wish to continue “to make music to tell our story,” Trairong Sinseubpol told AFP from Paris.
The French interior ministry has not responded yet to requests for comment on Faiyen’s application.
Since 2016, five of Thailand’s best-known activists have disappeared from their homes in Laos in what critics believe is a carefully orchestrated campaign of elimination by shadowy arch-royalist groups.
The corpses of two of them were found in December in the Mekong river which bisects the countries — their stomachs stuffed with concrete.
Rights groups believe three others have been deported from Vietnam to Thailand — although both governments deny any knowledge of their whereabouts.
A prominent Thai academic, known for his criticisms of the powerful military and monarchy, alleged that he was attacked in early July in Kyoto, Japan, by a masked man who broke into his apartment in the middle of the night.
“He walked into my bedroom and attacked me and my partner with chemical spray,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun said, adding that Kyoto’s police terrorism unit was currently investigating it.