Expression forbidden

25 11 2014

As we often do, PPT reproduces a Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on limits on expression and freedom in Thailand:

November 20, 2014

THAILAND: Expression of opinion forbidden by the junta

On 19 and 20 November, student and other activists carried out a series of peaceful, symbolic protests against the dictatorship in Thailand. In response, the military and police acted to swiftly end the protests and arrest eight of the activists under the terms of martial law. The position of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was summed up by deputy prime minister General Prawit Wongsuwan in a statement widely reported in the Thai press on 20 November that, ” can think differently, but do not express it.” In each of these cases, described below by the Asian Human Rights Commission drawing on reporting carried out by Prachatai, the military has attempted to intimidate student and other activists into promising to cease their expressing their opinions and engaging in political activities. As the six-month anniversaries of the declaration of martial law (20 November) and the coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (22 November) pass in Thailand, the junta has extended and consolidated its repressive apparatus.

On the morning of Wednesday, 19 November, a group of five students (Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Wason Sedsit, Jedsarit Namkot, Payu Boonsopon, and Wichakorn Anuchon) from the Human Rights Law Centre for Society (Dao Din) at Khon Kaen University engaged in a peaceful protest against the coup during a speech to local civil servants by junta leader and appointed prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Both before and subsequent to the coup, the members of Dao Din have actively worked to support and protect human rights and community rights in relation to various issues, including mining and land reform. Several members of the group were detained in June shortly after the coup and pressured to stop their activities. During the recent protest, they donned t- shirts which, when assembled in a line, spelled out, “No to the coup” in Thai (ไม่เอารัฐประหาร) and walked in front of the stage when General Prayuth was speaking. They raised their fingers in the three-finger salute of ‘liberty-equality-fraternity’ made popular by The Hunger Games films. They were swiftly arrested by police and first taken to the local police station and then to Sri Patcharin military camp to be interrogated. The military asked the students to remove their shirts and when they refused, the military forcibly removed their t-shirts. When the students were released on Wednesday evening, they walked out of the military camp without shirts or jackets. They and their parents were ordered to return to the military camp the next morning. On the morning of Thursday, 20 November, the students and their parents reported to the military camp where both parties were threatened that if the students did not sign an agreement to cease political activities, they were subject to expulsion from the university and proceedings in military court for the violation of martial law. Several of the students agreed to the conditions and several did not. Following the meeting, they were released and there were several reports of unmarked vehicles driving by their homes and other forms of harassment.

Then, also on the morning of 20 November, the military and police arrested several student activists in relation to screenings of the film The Hunger Games. During the morning, Rattapol Supasopol, a member of the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy, and Champ, a student activist arrested in June when he symbolically protested by eating a sandwich and reaching the novel 1984 in public, were arrested by the police at the Scala movie theatre in Siam Square. At the time of their arrest, they had not engaged in any overt protest, but were simply present prior to a screening of the film where a peaceful protest was planned. The screening at Scala was cancelled and the two students were later released. On the afternoon of 20 November, Natcha Kong-udom, a student at Bangkok University, was arrested when she raised three fingers in protest in front of reporters who had gathered in front of the movie theatre at Siam Paragon shopping center. She was arrested and detained by the military until the evening before she was released. The screening of the film at Siam Paragon continued, but was accompanied by a heavy military and police presence.

Further, on the early evening of 20 November, Siriporn Kongpetch, a trainer with the Youth Development for the Transformation of Society Project of the Thai Volunteer Service (TVS), was arrested and detained by the police in Chiang Dao district of Chiang Mai province. Her car was searched by soldiers and police, her ID was seized and she was taken to the local police station No accusation was made against her, but she was arrested because photographs of her holding signs that said, “Repeal martial law” and “No to the NCPO” at Chiang Dao mountain had been posted on Facebook several days prior. The officials informed her that they had been looking for her since the photographs had been distributed. They tried to convince her to sign an agreement to refrain from engaging in any political movement, but she refused and maintained her right to express her opinion.

The Asian Human Rights Commission notes that these eight individuals have been arrested and detained solely as a result of expressing their opinions about the coup. This indicates that nearly six months after the coup, to think differently than the NCPO is being treated as a de facto crime. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Government of Thailand has a responsibility to protect the rights as prescribed by Article 19 of the ICCPR, which notes that, “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.” The demand for the eight persons to cease expressing their opinions and engaging in political activities is a clear violation of Article 19.

In recent weeks, the military authorities have also summoned activists and human rights defenders (AHRC-STM-197-2014), prevented a walk to raise awareness about land reform in Chiang Mai (AHRC-STM-196-2014), and intimidated lawyers working to support human rights. Over the past six months since the coup by the NCPO, human rights defenders and dissidents who peacefully protest, or who express any criticism, have been targeted by the junta. Combined with the extensive powers granted to the junta under martial law and the temporary constitution, these actions have created an atmosphere of fear that is detrimental to human rights and the rule of law.

The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup and the disappearance of rights and liberties in Thailand in the strongest terms possible. While the AHRC welcomes the release of the activists who have expressed their dissenting options, they should not have been arrested in the first place. They are citizens who were expressing their opinion peacefully and are a danger to no one. To think differently than the junta is not a crime. To express one’s opinion is not a crime. The AHRC calls on the NCPO to cease arresting and detaining those who do so and return to civilian rule immediately.



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