Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

Read the Thai version of the letter

Letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand as the government cracks down on peaceful protests calling for democracy, human rights and reform.


Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Office of the Prime Minister
Pitsanulok road
Bangkok 10300
Thailand

Thailand: Drop charges against peaceful protesters and end restrictions on civic freedoms

CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.

We are writing to you to highlight our serious concerns about the escalating crackdown on peaceful protests in Thailand. According to reports by civil society groups, at least 80 individuals have been arbitrarily arrested since 13 October 2020. [1]

  • On 13 October, police forcibly dispersed a pro-democracy protest organised by the People’s Group at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. Police allegedly kicked, punched, and threw some protesters to the ground. At least 23 protesters including protest leader Jatuphat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa were arrested.[2]
  • On 14 and 15 October, another 34 people were reportedly arrested including protest leaders.[3] Five of the protest leaders - Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Prasit Khrutharot, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Nathchanon Pairoj were charged with “sedition” (Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code).[4] The rest were charged under the newly promulgated Emergency Decree. We are seriously concerned about reports that the police had prevented their lawyers from meeting with the arrested activists. Some have also been denied bail.
  • Activists Ekachai Hongkangwan and Boonkueanoon Paothong were also arrested on 16 October. They had reportedly shouted and held up the defiant three-finger salute when the Queen’s motorcade drove past protesters on 14 October. They have been charged under Section 110 of the Criminal Code and could face life imprisonment.[5]
  • On 16 October, police closed roads and established barricades with multiple rows of barbed wire in order to prevent people from peacefully gathering peacefully. Subsequently, police repeatedly used water cannons with chemical irritants and dye in attempts to disperse the crowd, estimated to be in the thousands.[6] Police also charged in with batons and shields to disperse the protesters.[7] 12 protesters were reportedly arrested.[8] Among those arrested include Kitti Pantapak, a journalist with Prachathai news outlet. His equipment was also confiscated.[9]
  • On 17 October, despite peaceful protests at least seven activists were reportedly arrested including student leader Panupong Chadnok.[10] On the same day, Chatchai Kaewkhampod a protest leader from Ubon Ratchathani province was also arrested.

We are also concerned about the introduction of a new emergency decree that severely restricts peaceful assembly and expression. The decree bans gatherings of five persons or more, and broadly prohibits the publication of news and information “which may instigate fear amongst the people” or that “affect national security or peace and order”.

Under the decree, authorities can arrest and detain people without charge for up to 30 days on grounds as vague as “supporting” or “concealing information” about the protests. The decree also allows those arrested to be detain them in informal places of detention and does not require access to legal counsel or visits by family members. Officials carrying out the duties under the decree enjoy legal immunity.

During the announcement of the measure, the authorities cited the need to “maintain peace and order” and that protesters had “instigated chaos and public unrest”.[11] We believe this to be a clear misrepresentation of the actions of the protesters.

The latest crackdown follows months of acts to suppress dissent, including the widespread use of judicial harassment against activists and human rights defenders. Authorities have arbitrarily arrested activists and filed charges against them under an array of repressive laws.

These actions are inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Thailand ratified in 1996. These include obligations to respect and protect fundamental freedoms which are also guaranteed in Thailand’s Constitution.

As such, we urge Thai authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all pro-democracy protesters detained, drop all charges against them and lift all restrictions on the exercise of their human rights;
  • Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and have regular access to lawyers of their choice, their family members and to medical care;
  • Revoke emergency measures imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression
  • Investigate all allegations of excessive force or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the police while dispersing protests and halt the use of water cannons water cannon unless there are situations of serious public disorder as provided by the 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement
  • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of Thailand’s civil society to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above.

Yours sincerely,

David Kode
Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Civic space in Thailand is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

1 ‘Arrest Statistics’, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 18 October 2020, https://www.tlhr2014.com/?p=22156

2 Thailand: Over 20 Democracy Activists Arrested, Human Rights Watch, 13 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/13/thailand-over-20-democracy-activists-arrested

 3 Two more rally leaders arrested, Bangkok Post, 15 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2002671/two-more-rally-leaders-arrested and Thailand bans mass gatherings under emergency decree, Al Jazeera, 15 October, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/15/thailand-imposes-emergency-amid-protests-leaders-detained 

4 ‘Thailand: End crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy activists, lift emergency decree ‘ FIDH, 16 October, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/thailand/thailand-end-crackdown-on-peaceful-pro-democracy-activists-lift 5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges

5 Article 110 of the Criminal Code bans any act of violence against the Queen or Her Majesty’s liberty. See ‘Two arrested on motorcade charges’, Bangkok Post, 16 October 2020,  https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/2003267/two-arrested-on-motorcade-charges 

6 ‘Thailand: Water cannons mark deeply alarming escalation in policing’, Amnesty protests’, 17 October 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/thailand-water-cannons-deeply-alarming-escalation/ 

7 Thailand: Water Cannon Used Against Peaceful Activists Human Rights Watch, 17 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/17/thailand-water-cannon-used-against-peaceful-activists 

8 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020, https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317170040169377792 

9 Prachatai's reporter, 24, arrested while covering police crackdown, Prachatai, 16 October 2020 https://prachatai.com/english/node/8848 

10 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 17 October 2020,  https://twitter.com/TLHR2014/status/1317482849772077061 

11 Thailand’s emergency decree ‘an excuse’ to end pro-democracy protests, MPs say’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, 15 October 2020, http://aseanmp.org/2020/10/15/thailand-emergency-decree-excuse/ 

 

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