121 Sex Workers Detained during Nataree Brothel Raid in Bangkok

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

On the 7th of June, armed police and “NVaders” a rescue organisation from New Zealand targeted “Nataree” – a brothel that employs 400 sex workers in Bangkok. The joint forces conducted a raid and apprehended 121 sex workers who were working at the time. Media were invited to film the raid.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the raid has been centered on the perspective promoted by the ‘raid and rescue’ organisation Nvaders. This perspective assumes labour rights abuses and exploitation were taking place at Nataree. These same articles, however, have failed to provide clear evidence to support such claims. For example the Lebanon Star reported the news as “Fifteen Underage Sex Workers Freed in Brothel Raid.” This article quotes Police Colonel Thepphitak Saengkla explaining the various penalties sex workers now face.

Thepphitak said that the Thai women who were arrested were charged with "mingling" in an entertainment venue, incurring a 1,000 baht fine (approximately 25 Euros) before they were released.

Of the 121 sex workers arrested in this raid, around 100 were migrant sex workers.  Thepphitak explained that some of these migrant workers who were arrested are now being detained and “prosecuted for not having work permits.”

Other migrant workers who were arrested have been fined 4,500 baht (approximately 110 Euros)) for “working in a profession that does not match the one indicated on their work permits” and are being sent to the immigration detention center to be deported.

In the week following the raid, reports confirmed that of the 121 people apprehended:

  • 15 women have been charged with being victims of trafficking and transferred to further detention;
  • 21 women were fined up to 4,500 baht each and were then transferred to an Immigration Centre in Bangkok for deportation – after receiving various charges including ‘associating for the purpose of prostitution’ and/or for breaching acts such as the immigration act and ‘Alien workers act’

For the remaining 85 women: some have been released on bail, while other still wait in detention.

There is particular concerns held for the 21 women held in detention since the 10th of June, 2016. These 21 women are not victims of human trafficking and they have no outstanding fines or pending criminal charges. It remains unclear why the are still being held.

The women and their families have reported that no one has informed them of their legal status as witnesses, their legal rights or the legal process they can expect. They are also facing restricted access to legal advocacy and family visits.

A joint open letter has been signed by a wide range of groups including Empower Foundation, sex workers across Thailand, The Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation along side a number of key human rights and health organisations in Thailand.

The joint letter urges the Prime Minister of Thailand to ensure the stipulations described within the Witness Protection Act 2003 and the 2009 MOU between Thailand and Myanmar. In particular they call on witnesses to be treated in accordance with their rights – including that they are provided with “safe and appropriate accommodation that is not a form of detention;” that witnesses are “paid all compensation to which they are entitled;” and that witnesses “must be fully informed and have freely consented to be part of the procedures”

Further they urge the immigration authorities immediately arrange appropriate space for witnesses to meet with family, advocates and access information on the process.