APHR calls for immediate release of activists

23 05 2018

The following is reproduced in full:

Lawmakers from across Southeast Asia today condemned the arrest of at least 15 activists following peaceful pro-democracy protests in Thailand, calling for their immediate release and for all charges to be dropped.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) stressed the Thai military government’s responsibility to uphold civil and political rights in line with its international obligations and reiterated its call on the regime to urgently restore democratic rule.

“The arrest of peaceful activists under draconian legislation, for simply expressing their opinions, exemplifies the entrenchment of intolerance under this regime – a worrying signal of a junta that is unwilling to relinquish power any time soon,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“Some of these young men and women, the future of our region, are facing the possibility of years behind bars under archaic sedition laws just for calling for accountability and a return to civilian rule. This is not acceptable in today’s ASEAN. As supporters of democracy and the people’s prerogative to fully exercise their human rights, we stand in solidarity with all human rights defenders and community activists in Thailand whose right to peaceful assembly continue to be curtailed.”

At least 15 pro-democracy activists were arrested and have been charged under a list of laws, including sedition (Section 116 of the Penal Code), being part of a gathering of more than nine persons that have either caused or threatened to use violence (Section 215 of the Penal Code), disobeying orders to disperse by the authorities (Section 216 of the Penal Code), violating a ban on political gathering of more than four persons (Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015) and for obstructing traffic (Section 108 of the Road Traffic Act). As of 3pm today, the activists are being detained at the Phayathai and Chanasongkram police stations, and APHR understands that they are granted access to lawyers.

The arrests followed their involvement in a peaceful rally held on 22 May to mark the four-year anniversary of the military regime’s seizure of power and to call for a return to civilian rule. The rally, one of the largest acts of dissent since the military regime came to power in 2014, was eventually dispersed following the arrests of the leaders.

“The Thai regime has a responsibility to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including the facilitating of peaceful demonstrations. Such rights form the bedrock of any functioning democracy and their exercise should only be restricted in very limited circumstances,” Santiago said. “This is clearly another attempt to scare the Thai people into silence.”

Since coming to power, the military regime has repeatedly delayed promised elections and has used a long list of laws to clampdown on genuine criticisms against the government, which APHR has previously highlighted as a contravention of accepted democratic norms.

Lawmakers reiterated their call on the military regime to end its crackdown on fundamental freedoms and take concrete steps to pave the way for democratic elections.

“As elected representatives, it is vital that we listen to the demands and aspirations of the people. It’s time the junta does the same and make good its pledges to restore true democracy in Thailand,“ Santiago concluded.