Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Thailand
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Thailand, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864668878.html [accessed 13 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
More than a year after the coup d'état of September 19, 2006, which overthrew the elected Government of Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, the martial law that was declared immediately afterwards by the Government of General Sonthi Boonyaratglin remains in force in several border provinces, especially in the north and south of the country, imposing severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms. On September 17, 2007, the Council for National Security (military junta) announced that martial law would remain in force in 27 provinces; at the end of 2007, 36 provinces continued to be governed by martial law. Furthermore, while the People Power Party (PPP) won the elections on December 23, it is feared that the military will retain practical control over public affairs.
At the same time, violence in the context of the armed conflict in southern provinces of Thailand, with a majority of Muslim population, has worsened in 2007; armed separatists continued to cause numerous civilian casualties, while the authorities engaged in arbitrary arrests and failed to investigate atrocities that were denounced in a timely fashion.
On December 21, 2007, the National Legislative Assembly adopted a Law on Internal Security which confers emergency powers to respond to threats to national security, even in the absence of a declaration of a state of emergency, to the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), an entity known for its military atrocities committed in the 1970s under the control of the Prime Minister. The ISOC is thus now able to restrict fundamental freedoms, since Article 17 authorises indefinite restriction on the freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement, with no responsibility before the Parliament or courts (Article 22), as the ISOC is authorised to monitor, prevent, suppress or take corrective measures against any action seen as a threat to society. According to Article 19, any person who is recognised as representing a threat to the security of the country is likely to be sentenced to a term of up to six months' detention in re-education camps, and it is feared that this provision could be abused in order to silence all dissenting voices. In addition, officials who commit human rights abuses on the basis of this law shall be immune from any prosecution (Article 23). As of late 2007, the King had not yet enacted this law.
Repression of any critical voice against the army and security forces
In 2007, defenders who sought to obtain redress for victims of human rights violations were regularly harassed, especially when those violations involved members of the security forces. While those who commissioned the disappearance in 2004 of Mr. Somchai Neelaphaijit, President of the Muslim Lawyers Association and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights of the Lawyers Association of Thailand, had still not been identified or brought to justice by late 2007, his widow, Mrs. Angkhana Wongrachen, was threatened several times because of her persistence in demanding justice for her husband. Similarly, on October 10, 2007, Mr. Ma-usoh Malong was killed near his home in Tak Bai, Narathiwat. He was the husband of Mrs. Yaena Solaemae, known for her work with the victims and relatives of those who were killed as a result of anti-Government demonstrations in Tak Bai in October 2004.1 The assassination was seen as an attempt to intimidate and silence defenders who seek justice and compensation for those victims.
In this context, it is feared that the 2007 Law on Internal Security will be used against human rights defenders as an instrument of repression regarding denunciations of human rights violations committed by the army and security forces.
Computer Crime Act and represssion of "cyber-dissidents"
The Government continued to be very active in silencing "cyber-dissidents" and thousands of Internet sites, mainly political, were said to have been closed by order of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) for having denounced the coup d'état, such as the site of the September 19 Network against the Coup, which was closed twice.2 Additionally, the websites www.prachathai.com and www.pantip.com were temporarily closed after being warned to remove all criticism of military authorities from their pages.
Furthermore, on July 18, 2007, the Computer Crime Act came into force, undermining freedom of expression on the Internet. While the Act is primarily aimed at punishing piracy and Internet pornography, it also allows the police to seize computer equipment of persons suspected of posing a threat to national security and to prosecute them, which, in the absence of a clear definition, can lead to abuse, especially for those with a critical position of the Government. For instance, bloggers "Pichai Praya" and "Thonchan" were arrested on August 24, 2007 before being released on bail on September 6 and charged with "defamation" and "undermining the security of the country" (Section 14). The Thai authorities eventually dropped the charges against them for lack of evidence.
Serious violations of freedom of peaceful assembly
The martial law declared immediately after the coup d'état caused serious restrictions on public assemblies, as gatherings of more than five people were banned, the sanction being six months'. Thus, on May 13, 2007, 2,000 demonstrators in the province of Surat Thani, who were demanding that plots of land be allocated for poor farmers, were dispersed with tear gas, batons and water cannons.3 Similarly, on July 22, 2007, the royal police violently dispersed a peaceful rally of more than 5,000 protesters, organised by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), a coalition of more than 15 anti-coup organisations. The protest took place in front of the home of General Prem Tinsulanonda, who was suspected of being the main instigator of the coup d'état of 2006, calling for the resignation of key players in this coup, the reintroduction of the 1997 Constitution, and immediate elections. On July 26, 2007, nine members of the DAAD who had participated in the rally were arrested, including Mr. Jaran Dita-Apichai, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, and accused of "conspiring with more than ten people to create disorder in the city" and "disobedience towards law enforcement order". On September 26, 2007, Mr. Jaran Dita-Apichai was removed from office by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for "acting against the interest of the unity of the State in a partisan fashion". Similarly, ten human rights defenders were being prosecuted as of late 2007 following their participation, on December 12, 2007, in a demonstration before the Parliament in Bangkok, to protest attempts by the NLA to pass eight bills undermining civil liberties in Thailand, including the Law on Internal Security.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 On October 25, 2004, various units of the security forces had been mobilised to disperse Muslim demonstrators in front of a police station in the district of Tak Bai (province of Narathiwat). Seven demonstrators were shot dead at the scene while 78 others died of asphyxiation or were crushed during their transport to detention centres. While General Surayud Chulanont apologised publicly in November 2006, no member of the security forces has been brought to justice in this case.
2 See Joint Report of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR) and Forum-Asia, Thailand: One Year After the Military Coup and its Effects on the Three Freedoms, September 19, 2007.