HRW annual accounting

1 02 2013

Human Rights Watch issues an annual reckoning of human rights around the world. Its press release on Thailand makes the following points about lese majeste:

While the number of prosecutions for lese majeste has declined since Yingluck took office, Thai authorities continue to use draconian statutes in the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to restrict freedom of expression, including on the internet. Thousands of websites have been blocked as “offensive to the monarchy.” People charged with lese majeste offenses were often denied bail and remained jailed for many months awaiting trial. Sentences have often been harsh. Amphon Tangnoppakul, who was sentenced in November 2011 to 20 years in prison for sending four lese majeste SMS messages in 2010, died of cancer in prison on May 8, 2012.Human Rights Watch

“The lese majeste and Computer Crime Act bring a climate of fear over all political speech in Thailand, whether in print or on social media,” said Adams. “The government needs to take action to prevent Thailand’s space for free speech from diminishing further.”

Of course, PPT agrees. We have been harping on the fact that the media and human rights organizations need to acknowledge the remarkable turnaround on charges laid and taken to prosecution. Compared with the Surayud Chulanond government put in place by the military junta and especially the avalanche of cases under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, the use of this draconian law is now at more “normal” levels. That said, the feudal law should be abolished and the wimpy human rights groups like HRW should be saying this loud and clear.

On other issues, the plight of the Rohinga is mentioned as is the south where the military still holds sway. The full HRW report states:

The Yingluck government initiated a government-funded compensation scheme for Malay Muslim victims of abuses committed by the security forces. However, Thai security forces faced few or no consequences for extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other abuses.

That should be seen as a positive change.

In its reporting of the response to the events of 2010, HRW decides that:

Neither the Abhisit nor the current Yingluck governments have sought to address the violence in an impartial manner. The Abhisit government charged hundreds of UDD leaders and supporters with serious criminal offenses, but failed to file charges against any military personnel implicated in the violence. The Yingluck government, which has the UDD’s backing, has taken a similarly one-sided approach, focusing criminal investigations to prosecute Abhisit and a former deputy prime minister for authorizing soldiers to use live ammunition and lethal force while downplaying deadly violence by UDD-linked “Black Shirts.”

The “men in black” claim harks back to HRW’s somewhat shoddy “investigation” of the violence with very little evidence produced for its claims. In the main report, while not making the point directly, HRW implies that so-called men in black were released by the Yingluck administration, but provides no evidence for this implied accusation.There is no mention of recent claims by the slippery lot at the Department of Special Investigation about investigating “men in black.”

While it accuses the Yingluck government of doing nothing to get rid of state impunity for murder – “After almost two years in office, Prime Minister Yingluck has failed to adopt any significant measures to end abuses, stop censorship, protect workers, and curtail impunity…” – it seems unable to see charges against Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban as addressing this issue, which seems to us like another HRW blind spot. Yes, military leaders need to be held responsible too, but at least one previously unthinkable step has been taken.

Red shirt political prisoners remain in prison, lese majeste remains a chilling reminder of royalist power and privilege, the military remains politicized, and the courts continue to act with crude double standards. However, some significant and quite positive changes have been made.


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