Release Pai IV

20 01 2017

According to the Bangkok Post, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) wrote to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 6 January over the arrest of Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa (Pai) on 2 December 2016 and the subsequent revocation of his bail on 22 December 2016.

The OHCHR has replied, explaining that it had followed Pai’s case and had “sent a letter to the permanent secretary of justice, Royal Thai Police, Foreign Ministry and the Khon Kaen Provincial Court” about the case. That letter:un-letter

expressed concern over the prosecution of Mr Jatupat on a lese majeste offence for exercising his right to freedom of expression and opinion, the military’s role in the investigation of the case and the revocation of his bail based on his comments against the government.

Further, the OHCHR urged “the government [ie. the junta] to review cases, including Jatupat’s, in which suspects have been charged under Section 112 of the Criminal Code known as the lese majeste law.”

The Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders also sent a statement of concern to the junta thugs Thai authorities over Pai’s detention. It stated:

The Observatory noted that, to date, Mr Jatupat is the only individual who has been arrested and charged among the approximately 3,000 web users who shared the BBC profile of the King on Facebook. It is believed the charges against him are aimed at sanctioning [punishing] his legitimate human rights activities.

Readers will have also noticed that about 50 activists rallied in support of Pai in Bangkok, while another 40, including Sulak Sivaraksa, have visited him in his Khon Kaen jail.

None of this matters much to the military thugs. Today, Pai was again refused bail. The hearing on his bail application was held in secret.

It is reported that “[w]hen the court informed the activist that the hearing would be held in secret, Jatuphat objected to the court procedures, adding he does not need a lawyer and will not sign any documents.”

Pai has now been refused bail five times.





UN statement on military dictatorship in Thailand

23 04 2016

As reported in the New York Times, on 22 April 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Thailand.

We are not at all sure why the UN High Commissioner thinks that a military-dictated constitution, prepared by a puppet drafting body and which, if passed in an illegitimate referendum, promises to remove virtually all the hallmarks of a democratic constitution, could provide “a solid foundation for a sustainable democracy in Thailand.”

For the other bits that make more sense, this is the statement:

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday expressed growing concern about the military’s deepening role in Thailand’s civilian administration, as well as tight curbs on dissent, as the Kingdom prepares to vote on a final draft Constitution.High Commissioner Zeid said that several critics of the draft Constitution have already been arbitrarily arrested, detained and harassed since the draft was made public at the end of March. On Monday, former government minister Watana Muangsook was detained by the military over remarks he posted on social media criticizing the draft. He was released on bail yesterday. On Tuesday, five human rights defenders were taken into military custody for joining a peaceful assembly against the Government’s restrictions but have since been released.

Zeid expressed particular concern that the clampdown on criticism would intensify following hardline comments by the Prime Minister and other senior Government figures. A new law governing the referendum places limits on groups and individuals advocating for or against the draft Constitution. The law, which is awaiting Royal assent, could be interpreted arbitrarily and used against opponents.

“An open and dynamic public debate on the draft Constitution would foster national unity, strengthen the legitimacy and acceptance of the Constitution and provide a sense of collective ownership,” Zeid said. “I urge the Government to actively encourage, rather than discourage, dialogue and engagement on the draft Constitution. This would be an important step in establishing a solid foundation for a sustainable democracy in Thailand.”

While the High Commissioner said he appreciated that the public had been allowed to make submissions and some human rights provisions have been incorporated into the draft Constitution, he stressed the need for the general public, members of political parties, civil society, including NGOs, journalists and academics, to be given the space to express their views without fear of harassment, reprisals or arrests.

Since the military coup of 2014, the Thai Government has issued a number of new orders to strengthen the role of the military in policy-making and law enforcement after years of political upheaval and violent protests.

“Extending the military’s powers is not the answer to rebuilding Thailand’s political landscape,” the High Commissioner said. “On the contrary, Thailand has competent civilian institutions and should be looking to strengthen the rule of law and good governance, not undermine it.”

On 30 March 2016, the military government issued Order Number 13/2016 providing military officers and paramilitary forces with a range of powers over a number of offences under at least 27 laws. These include authorising officers to search places, seize assets, suspend financial transactions, ban suspects from travelling and detain individuals for up to seven days, without any warrant, judicial oversight or administrative accountability. Although the Government has stated these powers are targeted at organised crime, there are fears they will be used against opponents. Another Order issued by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) on 4 April 2016 gives the military more power in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand which have been prone to violence and conflict.

In addition, the final draft Constitution released in March institutionalises the role of the military in policy making and law enforcement. Section 265 and 279 of the draft provide for the legalisation and continuation of military orders issued under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution, which has effectively allowed the head of the NCPO to issue any legislative, executive or judicial order. Over the past year, 61 NCPO orders have been issued under Article 44.

“As a matter of priority, I call on the Government to suspend the application of these dangerously sweeping laws and orders that have bestowed more power upon the military,” Zeid said.

The High Commissioner also repeated his call for all cases involving civilians to be transferred from military to civilian courts. He appealed to the Thai Government to fully abide by the international human rights treaties it has ratified.





Standing up

16 06 2015

PPT has mentioned several times that the resistance of various student groups has been brave. In the past couple of days, this political bravery has been on display several times and has been supported by others.

In a report at Prachatai, it is revealed that the military summoned four leaders of an activist group for a dressing down for supporting and appearing with the Dao Din student group from Khon Kaen University, which has protested against the coup and military dictatorship and been charged by te junta for illegal assembly.

Last Friday, military officers in Kalasin summoned four activists from the Ban Na Mun-Dun Sat Environmental Protection Group for a “talk.” They claimed Dao Din was “an illegal anti-coup activist group” and that its anti-coup activities were “illegal.” Nothing much unusual in this in the military’s Thailand.

What was unusual, was the response:

[T]he four local activists insisted on showing support for the Dao Din group and said it is not illegal. Furthermore, the activists mentioned the controversial petroleum drilling plan in Kalasin Province, stating that they have the right to stand up and protect themselves against injustice.

When the military officers demanded that the activists “sign a paper agreeing not to join such political activities … the activists refused…”.

The report also mentions other instances where activists groups have stood up to the military bullies.

In another Prachatai report, seven student members of Dao Din visited Bangkok to meet with staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the British Embassy. The UN agency stated that is was closely following Dao Din and the military dictatorship’s charges against it. The UN representative stated that the charge against Dao Din is a violation of basic human rights and that the Office had already submitted a letter of concern to the junta.

At the British Embassy, staff “told the group that they will monitor the situation concerning the group closely and that they will issue a statement together with the European Union (EU) that the Thai military’s actions against Dao Din violated basic human rights.”

These are brave moves by the students and their supporters and allies.





UN on Article 44

2 04 2015

UN Human Rights Chief alarmed by Thai Government’s adoption of potentially unlimited and “draconian” powers

For ภาษาไทย, download this PDF (High Commissioner Press Release – Thai Version 2 April 2015).

GENEVA (2 April 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday expressed alarm at the Thai military Government’s announcement that it has invoked an article of the Interim Constitution that bestows unfettered authority on the head of the military government. The article grants sweeping law enforcement powers over the civilian population to military personnel, potentially overriding a wide range of human rights guaranteed under national and international law.

On Wednesday, the military Government of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was granted permission to revoke martial law, and replace it with extraordinary powers under article 44 of the Interim Constitution.

“Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law – and indeed strongly advocated for it to be lifted in Thailand,” the High Commissioner said. “But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all. This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights. I appeal to the Government to ensure that these extraordinary powers, even if provided for by the Interim Constitution, will nevertheless not be exercised imprudently.”

Under an Order published by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) elaborating the application of article 44, military personnel down to the rank of Second Lieutenant may be appointed as “peace and order maintenance officers” with sweeping law enforcement powers, including to search, arrest and detain without judicial oversight. In addition, they will be empowered “to conduct any other action” as ordered by the NCPO.

Article 44 effectively allows the head of the NCPO, General Chan-ocha, to issue any legislative, executive or judicial order. Such orders, and any action based on them, would automatically be deemed legal, constitutional and conclusive. Even violations of human rights under international and existing national laws would be considered legal, and no avenues of accountability could be pursued. The peace and order maintenance officers are provided with immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liabilities for any action they may take while acting under these extraordinary powers.

“The NCPO Order issued on Wednesday also annihilates freedom of expression,” Zeid said. “It explicitly gives these military peace and order maintenance officers the authority to prohibit ‘the reporting of news’ or sale or distribution of books, publications, or any other medium that ‘may create public fear or are intended to distort news and information to cause misunderstandings which could affect national security or public order.’ Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment earmarked for protesters who gather in groups of more than five.”

“In effect, this means the sweeping away of all checks and balances on the power of the Government, rendering the lifting of martial law meaningless,” Zeid said.

“I urge the Thai Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and promptly restore normal civilian rule of law, as it pledged to do after the coup in May last year,” Zeid said.





Lese majeste and the degradation of the rule of law

21 09 2014

Military dictatorships are usually established via a putsch. By the nature of their illegal seizure of power, such regimes are not usually much interested in the law as it applies to them. However, military dictatorships will often make use of certain laws to maintain repression and oppression.

In Thailand, since the military coup of May 2014, there has been yet another spike in the use of the draconian lese majeste and computer crimes laws. These are convenient tools for the maintenance of repression and the silencing of critics. The current military dictatorship’s use of these laws has its heritage in the 2006 palace-military coup. Following this previous putsch, the use of these laws has skyrocketed and been directed against those who are seen as enemies of the royalist state.darunee

Indeed, PPT came into existence. As we say elsewhere on this blog, PPT is dedicated to those who are held in Thailand’s prisons, charged with political crimes. It also seeks to raise the cases of those who are accused of political crimes. Our focus is the contemporary period where political cases revolve around the use of Thailand’s lese majeste law and, increasingly, the Computer Crimes Act. Our beginning was prompted by the Democrat Party-led government of 2008-11 that rapidly expanded censorship, blocked tens of thousands of web pages it considered offensive to the monarchy and presided over hundreds of new charges and arrests. All of this in the defense of some ill-defined notion of “national security.” The monarchy was defined as an issue of national security, not least by the military officers who seized power in 2014.

In amongst the plethora of convictions and continuing cases, two of the most egregious are those of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul and  Somyos Prueksakasemsuk. In both cases, the law has been used and abused in order to lock up and silence political opponents of the royalist regime. In each case, constitutional provisions were simply ignored by the courts. In the case of Somyos, his treatment has often amounted to a form of torture. Neither of them was ever allowed to access bail.

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk shackled in 2012

Somyos shackled in 2012

This degradation of the rule of law through the bizarre legal machinations associated with these political laws has been noted by others, including academics, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

All of this background is to observe that Somyos has recently been back in the courts. Denied bail at least 15 times, Somyos appealed his 23 January 2013 conviction and sentencing to 5 years on each of two lese majeste charges. Within a short time, Somyos lodged an appeal, and on 19 September 2014, the Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Reports of the appeal outcome were carried in the Bangkok Post, Khaosod and Prachatai. Thecourt reportedly rejected Somyos’ appeal, saying “his new evidence could not override that of the prosecution.”

What struck PPT, however, was not that the courts continued to make politicized decisions but the continuing basic inhumanity associated with the case. Somyos was taken to court for the verdict and no member of Somyos’ family nor any of his lawyers were reportedly present at the court. It is stated that this is because they were not informed by the authorities in advance. His wife Sukunya noted that this failure indicated the lack of transparency and flouting of rules and law in lese majeste cases.

Following this failed appeal, Somyos has indicated that he would fight on to the Supreme Court.

Lese majeste has poisoned Thailand’s judiciary and undermined the rule of law just as completely and effectively as military coups do.





UN concerns on human rights and lese majeste

19 08 2014

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 19 August 2014

Press briefing notes

We are seriously concerned about the prosecution and harsh sentencing of individuals in Thailand under the country’s lèse majesté law. Such measures are adding to the larger pattern of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand. Since the 22 May coup, at least 13 new lèse majesté cases have been opened for investigation while other cases where charges had previously not been laid, have been revived.

Last week, on 14 and 15 August, two university students were arrested for participating in a play in October 2013 that depicted a fictional monarch who was manipulated by his advisor. The arrests followed a number of convictions and harsh sentences in lèse majesté cases, including that of Plutnarin Thanaboriboonsuk who was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to messages he posted on Facebook. He was sentenced on 31 July to 15 years in prison, reduced from a sentence of 30 years because of his guilty plea. The sentence came less than two months after charges were laid on 16 June, even though the investigation had remained pending for more than two years. In another case, on 14 August, Yuthasak Kangwanwongsakul, a taxi driver, was sentenced to two years and six months in jail under the lèse majesté laws for a conversation he had with a passenger. We are concerned that more charges may be filed and that more harsh sentences may be issued in the coming weeks.

In 2013, the High Commissioner indicated her support for amendments to the lèse majesté law under section 112 of the Criminal Code to address concerns related to the implementation of the law. In 2011, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion also urged the amendment of Thailand’s lèse majesté law, stating that section 112 was too vague and prescribes long maximum sentences that are contrary to permissible restrictions on freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.

We reiterate our call to the military administration to ensure its compliance with Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law, especially the ICCPR. The threat of the use of the lèse majesté laws adds to the chilling effects on freedom of expression observed in Thailand after the coup, and risks curbing critical debate on issues of public interest.

 





Yingluck dissembles on lese majeste

10 09 2013

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has recently made a speech at the 24th United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In it, the Bangkok Post reports that she made the following useful point:

“Thailand has also gone through challenges to defend our democracy over the decades. The journey has not been smooth and, even today, I still have to defend democracy from undemocratic minds…”.

“We cannot and should not accept any undemocratic changes. And we must continue to support democratic values by protecting people’s rights and liberties. [She added]… “This means that those in power must not cling onto power and impose one’s will on others…”.

Regrettably, she is also reportedly met United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and engaged in some remarkable dissembling on lese majeste. She is reported to have told Pillay that “lese majeste convicts in Thailand received proper treatment like other criminal offenders.”112.jpg

From our perspective, the persons currently in custody are charged with a political offence. They are certainly not common criminals as the premier implies. In addition, numerous prisoners have reported that they are harassed in jail. This on top of constitutional irregularities and the cruel treatment many of them receive through repeated refusals of bail.

When she adds that: “They have the right to a fair trial and to receive legal assistance,” this is simply a bizarre nonsense as any reading of our lists of pending and convicted cases shows.