Thailand: States must urge the government to address the deterioration of fundamental freedoms

As Thailand’s human rights record is examined at the Human Rights Council on 11 November 2021, CIVICUS and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) call on UN member states to raise serious concerns about Thailand’s civic freedoms.

In the previous UPR cycle in 2016, Thailand committed to guarantee and respect the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association; put an end to all forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders; and ensure that all legislation comply with international human rights standards protecting fundamental freedoms. It received 35 recommendations related to civic space, accepting 10 and noting 25.

Thailand has not upheld these commitments. A joint submission by CIVICUS and ADN to the Human Rights Council in March 2021 highlighted Thailand’s ongoing use of repressive laws against human rights defenders, activists and journalists as well as harassment, physical attacks and allegations of enforced disappearances of activists. Our organizations also raised concerns about the crackdown on peaceful protests, the arrests and criminalization of protesters and the use of excessive force by the police.

Over the last four years, criminal defamation laws such as section 116 of the Penal Code on sedition have been used to quash dissent by the authorities. More recently, sedition charges have been brought against human rights defenders involved in protests calling for democratic reforms. Although rarely used since 2018, there has been an escalation of investigations and arrests for lèse majesté (section 112 of the Penal Code) since November 2020 against the leaders of the pro-democracy movement.

Other concerns related to freedom of expression include the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), which allows the authorities to conduct surveillance on online content and prosecute individuals under broadly defined offences and the cybersecurity law passed in 2019 that gives the government sweeping access to people's personal information. Outspoken media outlets and reporters have also often face intimidation and punishment for commentaries critical of the authorities.

“In the upcoming session at the Human Rights Council, states must use the opportunity to call out Thailand for its systematic repression of pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and journalists. These actions are inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations,” said Cornelius Hanung, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia from CIVICUS.

The Thai authorities have also imposed restrictions on peaceful protests in recent years and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters. In 2020, at least 90 people joining peaceful protests were arrested between 13 and 21 October 2020 by the police. The use of excessive force by the police to disperse protesters have been widely reported. On 17 November 2020, during a protest outside parliament, police used water cannon laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas and pepper spray grenades, to forcibly disperse thousands of protesters, including students, some of whom were children.

“No one should be detained merely for exercising the right to peaceful assemble. The authorities must immediately end its harassment of protest leaders and participants and release all those detained. There should also be prompt, effective and independent investigations into any violations during protests and perpetrators held accountable,” said Ichal Supriadi, Secretary General at Asia Democracy Network.

Civil society organizations, pro-democracy groups, student networks and labor groups in Thailand have been subjected to restrictions and multiple forms of intimidation for carrying out their work. More recently, the Thailand Government is considering a revised NGO law that contains arbitrary and vague-defined powers that could be used to muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It includes excessive punishments, places discriminatory restrictions on organizations that receive foreign funding and allows for intrusive surveillance and searches without judicial oversight.

Key recommendations that States should make include:

• Ensure that processes to draft any new laws to oversee the formation and operation of CSOs include meaningful consultation with CSOs and HRDs and are consistent with international law and standards related to the freedom of association.
• Provide HRDs, civil society members and journalists with a safe and secure environment in which they can carry out their work. Conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation against them and bring the perpetrators of such offences to justice.
• Specifically, repeal or review article 112 (lèse-majesté) and article 116 (sedition) of the Penal Code to bring it in line with the ICCPR, UN Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 34 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
• Specifically, review and amend the Computer Crime Act and Cybersecurity law to ensure that these laws are in line with best practices and international standards in the area of the freedom of expression.
• Ensure that journalists can work freely and without fear of criminalization or reprisals for expressing critical opinions or covering topics that the government may deem sensitive.
• Unconditionally and immediately release all protesters detained for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and drop all charges against them.
• Review and, if necessary, update existing human rights training for police and security forces, with the assistance of independent CSOs, to foster the more consistent application of international human rights standards, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms

The examination of Thailand will take place during the 39th Session of the UPR on 10 November 2021. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.

Civic space in Thailand is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

 

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