Free Thailand's papaya activists!

Feature story - 27 April, 2005
Why are two activists facing 5 years of prison for exposing an environmental crime?

Meet Pat and Jay. Do they look like criminals who should be locked away for five years? 

Jay has a Phd in Ecology from the University of Gorgia. Pat is a journalist and yoga instructor.

Their story is about papaya. 

Papayais grown in almost every backyard and is a staple food in some parts of Southeast Asia. It is a vital part ofthe Thai kitchen and features in famous Thai dishes such as Som Tam, aspicy papaya salad.  Large numbers of people in Thailand grow the fruit, and were worried when the Thai governmentbegan to experiment with genetically engineered (GE) strains.


After a long trail, Pat and Jay have been acquitted on all charges.

A huge thank you to all the people who sent messages of support and asked for their freedom

Hawaiian papaya disaster

Their worry was well founded. Commercial plantings of GE papaya in Hawaii had been disastrous for organic papaya growers. The selling price of GE papaya fell to 30-40 percent belowproduction costs, and the price that farmers got for their GE papaya in2003 was 600 percent lower than the price for organic papaya. Japanscreens to ensure no GE papaya enters the market, and it is illegal inmany countries.

The government approved experimental plantings at a number of research stations regardless.

Greenpeace discovers contamination

On24 June 2004, we received test results showing that the fruit of apapaya tree on a local farmer's land had been genetically engineered.

The GE papaya tree was 12 months old and had been grown from papayaseeds purchased from the government research station at Khon Kaen inJune 2003.  Sale of GE seeds is illegal in Thailand.

In July of 2004, Pat and Jay took this storypublic when they acted as spokespersons for Greenpeace activists whosealed off GE papaya in experimental fields attheKhon Kaen research station -- the source of GE papaya contamination inthe region. The activists, dressed in protective suits, removedGE papaya fruit from trees and secured them in hazardous materialcontainers.

Pat and Jay call for destruction of test field

Patand Jay appeared on television and in print demanding that thegovernment complete the process begun by the activists and immediatelydestroy all papaya trees, fruit, seedlings, and seeds in the researchstation to prevent further contamination.  The story became one of the biggest scandals in Thailand.

They were charged with theft, trespassing and destruction of property. 

Nocharges were made against the officials at the research station, whothreatened to rob papaya farmers of their livelihoods by contaminatingtheir crop, whose seeds trespassed into the fields of farmers whodidn't want them, and whose error led to the contamination of papayawhich then had to be destroyed.

Almost two months after Greenpeace took action against the contamination, the governmentacknowledged that a plantation 4 kms from the research station had beencontaminated, and destroyed the farmer's papaya.

Greenpeace was proven right.

The government collected samples from 2,345 plantations in 35 provinces. 

They admitted that 24 plantations had been contaminated.

Government destroys test field

On September 15th, 2004, the government destroyed the GE papaya in the research station's experimental field.

Thus, they fulfilled their civic duty by completing the job that the Greenpeace team had begun.

Insteadof getting to the bottom of who precisely was responsible for thecontamination, the very department that was responsible for thecontamination decided to take legal action against Pat and Jay.

Shutting down opposition

These charges are not about the events of July 27th, 2004: they're about preventing future events of this nature.

This story is about putting a chill on further protest against GE crops in Thailand.

It's about making examples of a journalist and an ecology professor who dared to speak up, and throw them in jail for it.

At stake is the entire nature of civil society in one of the most developed countries of Southeast Asia.

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