TUESDAY, April 16, 2024
Persona Non Grata in Phuket
By Amorn Wanichwiwatana

It has taken me several weeks to complete this article, as I have been busy marking one of Buddhism’s most auspicious festivals, Makha Bucha, as well as worshipping the relics of Lord Buddha at Sanam Luang alongside a large group of Buddhists from all over the kingdom and brought me to have true peace of mind, without being too distracted by the ways of the world.

Academics like me are considered to be thought influencers. So this week, let us look at the hottest issue of the moment that relates to ethnicity, human rights, Thainess, and human dignity. The issue in question occurred in Phuket, or “Phuket country” as it is called by its residents. Anyone who reads the news will be aware that the cost of living in Phuket is very high due to the high number of foreigners from all walks of life who have made it their home. I have visited Phuket on many occasions and have observed the many changes – new housing estates, many of them beside the beach, new roads and more – and, of course, in the make-up of its population. People flock to the island from Bangkok, from the Northeast and the North, as well as from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia to join the local labour force.

Among the expatriates to have made Phuket their home is Urs, aka David, Fehr, a former security guard of Swiss nationality. He and his Thai wife, Khanuengnit Cha-thongkham, live in a high-end villa bordering the beach. Fehr is accused of kicking a Thai female doctor, Thandao Chandam, who was sitting on the steps leading to the villa while his wife berated her. Although the couple did later issue a public apology, saying that he had “accidentally tripped over her", this has done little to stem the protests nor the demands for his visa to be revoked.

As someone who has been educated both in Thailand and in other countries rich in culture and etiquette, I know how to respect the opposite sex. It must be said that deliberate actions that intend to touch or harm a woman’s body are unacceptable and not gentlemanly. A video clip shows Fehr walking towards Dr Thandao while filming,

The doctor later filed a complaint with local police.

Surprisingly, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, human rights activists and foreign-funded human rights organizations, usually quick to flag any abuse of rights, have not come out with any statements this time around.

As of the time of writing, no decision has been made whether to revoke Fehr’s visa though many think this should done. It is also unclear if checks on his wife and adopted son, which some claim is a high-ranking police officer, have been undertaken.

Every nation in the world has strict measures to deal with so-called persona non grata to protect their people. resources, property and sovereignty in all aspects of the state. Yet no action is being taken.

Fehr and his wife run an elephant camp that is allegedly funded by public donations. As a committee member of the Zoo Organization of Thailand, I have heard many similar stories and fully support the need for mechanisms to rid the country of people who run such camps to protect and preserve our country’s valuable wildlife. Those who act in this way use charity as a front but receive donations from philanthropists around the world, They are happy to use Thailand as their base but show no gratitude to the country.

On a positive note, this incident will probably raise public awareness of such cases and push Thais to call for a solution. We must not brush it off. There will likely be other incidents like this and they must be treated urgently and firmly. We must also review existing measures so that this doesn't happen again. I rest my case.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana, DPhil (Oxon), is a former member of the Constitution Drafting Commission and is currently a professor at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.