Arbitrary detention and threats to human rights defenders

28 08 2014

Reprinted in full:

August 28, 2014

An Open Letter from the Asian Human Rights Commission

THAILAND: Arbitrary detention and threats to human rights defenders and their families
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations

CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Special Rapporteurs and Working Group Members,

You will be aware of the significant threats to human rights which have followed the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in Thailand. During the first eleven weeks since the coup, there have been severe restrictions placed on freedom of expression and political freedom, ongoing formal and informal summons to report to the junta, extensive use of arbitrary detention, the activation of military courts to process dissidents (the dangers of which the Asian Human Rights Commission detailed in a prior open letter to a number of special procedures holders), and the creation of a general climate of fear detrimental to human rights and the rule of law.

Under the terms of martial law, which were put in place two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. People arrested can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased.

The junta has refused to provide full details of the number of people detained and the places of detention, but according to the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), a Thai nongovernmental organization collecting information about detentions and arrests following the coup, noted that by the first week of August, at least 570 people were summoned by the junta, and at least 235 were arrested. While the junta has repeatedly claimed that those who are summoned and then held are not being detained, but are instead being offered “accommodation” and “attitude adjustment,” the penalty for not responding to the summons is possible processing within the military court system and a punishment of a prison sentence of up to two years and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht. In addition, although the junta has repeatedly stated that all those in their custody are being well-treated, Kritsuda Khunasaen, who was detained for 27 days shortly after the coup, left Thailand to seek asylum abroad and then released an account in early August to the public of her mental and physical torture during her detention. Her account prompted calls from the OHCHR as well as a number of Thai and international human rights organizations including the Cross Cultural Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Asian Human Rights Commission, for an independent investigation. Thus far, the response of the junta has been to first attempt to discredit Kritsuda Khunasaen, and then subsequently to press criminal charges that would result in her extradition to Thailand.

Despite the potential prison term and fine for not reporting, many of those summoned by the junta have elected not to report. One of these persons is Thanthawut Taweewarodomkul, a former political prisoner. Thanthawut was accused of defaming the monarchy through his work as a web designer and webmaster, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act on 15 March 2011. He was granted a royal pardon on 5 July 2013. Following his release, he was engaged in building a small business, setting up a support network to protect human rights and aid the families of current and former political prisoners, and taking care of his son as a single father.

Thanthawut was summoned two different times by the junta, in Order No. 5/2557 [2014] issued on 24 May 2014 and in Order No. 43/2557 [2014] issued on 7 June 2014.  He has elected not to report following the summons and has gone into exile outside the country. In an essay published in both Thai and English at the end of July, and included as an appendix to this open letter, he explained why he decided not to report. In this article, he explains that the primary reason why he did not report is as follows, “ …I could not accept the seizure of power by the junta, the NCPO. I cannot accept any seizure of power without the necessary agreement from the people.” In addition, he explained his prior experience with the judicial and prison systems, his keen sense of the politicized nature of the charges against him, and the use of military courts to process civilians caused him to be concerned that if he reported, he would not be treated fairly. It is the assessment of the Asian Human Rights Commission that his concerns are well-founded given the unlawful nature of the coup and the deterioration of human rights protections subsequent to it.

Following Thanthawut’s decision not to report himself to the junta, his family has been subject to daily harassment from the authorities. Police and military soldiers have visited his parents’ home to inquire about his whereabouts and to threaten that they will continue to visit the family until he reports himself. Thanthawut wrote an open letter detailing this harassment and sent it to various human rights organizations, including the Asian Human Rights Commission, and it is appended to this letter as an appendix. The ongoing harassment and threats from the authorities have taken a significant toll on his family, and his mother had to be hospitalized due to the strain. This is a clear instance of intimidation by the junta. The Asian Human Rights Commission is further concerned that this may not be an isolated case of intimidation of families of those who have not reported following summons by the junta.

In view of the above facts, the Asian Human Rights Commission urges you through your respective mandates to raise these matters with the Government of Thailand, such that the authorities cease their harassment of the family of Thanthawut Taweewarodomkul and other families of those who have been summoned by the regime and have declined to report themselves. The AHRC also asks that you call for the restoration of civilian government in Thailand as quickly as possible, and expresses its view that the temporary constitution put in place by the National Council for Peace and Order is unacceptable, an affront to the rule of law, and will likely have disastrous consequences for human rights in Thailand.

Yours sincerely,


Bijo Francis

Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Copies to:
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Regional Office, Bangkok
Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations, Geneva




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