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Karen Language ban in northern Thailand

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A community radio in northern Thailand that uses the Karen language has been ordered to only use Thai, a direct violation of linguistic rights.
(Bangkok, 23 November 2007) A Karen language radio station in northern Thailand has been ordered by the Thai military to stop broadcasting in the Karen language and only use Thai. This small private radio station had been broadcasting all programs in Karen, but has since stopped using Karen language because of the order.

In October, during a radio board meeting of San Pa Tong community radio in Chiang Mai, a representative of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) attended the meeting to inform the radio station that only central Thai and the northern dialect of Thai may be used. Later, it was discovered that is was due to “security reasons”.

Normally, this community radio station runs programmes in the Karen language. Radio programmers believe that the problem for the Thai authorities began during the recent demonstrations in Burma; authorities suspected that the radio programme may incite people in Thailand. The Karen community in northern Thailand reportedly supported the demonstrations in Burma. As the Thai authorities cannot understand the Karen language, they speculated on the type of information being shared and the radio stations involvement.

The Karen people have asserted themselves as Indigenous Peoples. The area they live in today includes northern Thailand and eastern Burma. Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under which specifically protects the right to language. Under the recently passed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP), article 16 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own language”. Article 2 of Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities affirms that “persons belonging to… linguistic minorities…have the right… to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination”. This language ban is in clear violation of these rights.

The ISOC needs to respect the international standard of language rights. Community radios must be allowed to broadcast in their own language.

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