Stop assaulting opponents!

4 06 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is a co-signatory to a statement decrying the increasing use of thuggish violence against political opponents of the military junta. Other signatories are the Cross Cultural Foundation, Center for Protection and Revival of Local Community Rights, Community Resource Centre Foundation, Human Rights Lawyers Association, Enlaw Thai Foundation, and Union Civil for Liberty.

Read this important statement here or here.

The military boot and the middle class I

22 03 2016

The military dictatorship is continuing to expand its repression to the middle class, the broad class that joined with the Sino-Thai tycoons in bringing the junta to power.

Prachatai reports that “[l]awyers, academics, and civil society groups” are aghast that the military junta has directly intervened “in an election of the Lawyers Council of Thailand…”.

PPT is aware how much the junta’s rather dull leaders hate elections, but an intervention in an election of a relatively small association seems rather more dopey and hamfisted than is usual for the military brass.

Those on the receiving end of this bit of junta repression make the point that the “junta has no legitimacy to do so [intervene].” They seem to have forgotten that their previous support for anti-democrats means that the junta does not need legitimacy for repression.

In any case, the “Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), ENLAWTHAI Foundation, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and 66 other lawyers and law academics on Monday, 21 March 2016, issued a joint statement to condemn the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for ordering a halt to the election of the Lawyers Council under the Royal Patronage…”. We suppose they are making a point by including the last phrase.

The junta issued an order on 16 March issued to “halt the upcoming election of the council’s president and committee for 2016-2019.” The reason cited is, as you’d expect from these lumbering dopes, is plainly stupid: “In a letter sent to the Lawyers Council by the NCPO last week, Gen Chalermchai Sitthisat, Deputy Secretary-General of the NCPO, reasoned that the Lawyers Council has many members and that the election of the Council might be deemed a violation of NCPO Announcement No. 7/2014 which bans a political gathering of five or more persons.”

The order means that “the current president and committee of the Lawyers Council shall serve as an acting committee for the time being.” We suspect that the current leadership better suits the junta.

The gradually expanding repression of middle class is a feature of previous regimes, and it remains to be seen if this class’s anti-democratic stance holds in the face of its own repression or whether, as in 1992, it finds the military boot on its neck too restrictive.

Updated: No responsibility

10 11 2015

The military junta has spent the past day or so trying to distance itself from the second acknowledged death in military custody. It has involved The Dictator and the Minister for “Justice.”

In an AFP report, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is reported to have “said the military was not to blame for the death of a famous fortune teller charged with royal defamation after he died in custody in a Bangkok army barracks.”

Prayuth declared that the detention site, inside the 11th Army Division, was “not a military prison” but is “run by the justice ministry and supervised by police.” In other words, the area inside the military base, in military buildings, surrounded by military personnel and kit is not military.

Prayuth then became even more bizarre than usual, claiming to reporters: “When you use the word military prison it’s shocking. The military is kind not cruel…”. Tell that to the tens of thousands of victims and families who have been subject to the military’s enforced disappearances, land losses, red drum incinerations, torture, regular massacres and various kinds of corruption.

In a Prachatai report, Gen Paiboon Kumchaya, the Minister of “Justice,” also denies any responsibility. Like his boss, he argued that “the remand facility in the 11th Army Division is not a ‘military prison’, but a normal remand facility runs by the Department of Corrections.” We do not think that “normal” is in any way the right description of this military facility housing a makeshift prison (or is it Detention Site Green?).

His excuse is that deaths in custody are somehow normal. Paiboon said that the deaths of Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha were just two deaths in amongst many deaths and suicides amongst the prison population of 300,000-400,000 people.

Suriyan and Prakrom, however, were held in this special prison, with just a handful of prisoners.

Paiboon also said that health checks on Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, the only surviving prisoner arrested in this group of three, “will be carried out.”

Several human rights organizations are now calling for “accountability and greater transparency on the detention of lese majeste suspects.” They should be doing more than this, but the situation in Thailand under the military boot is anything but normal.

Update: The Human Rights Lawyers Association and Union for Civil Liberty have called for the use of “Section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code by launching an inquiry into Suriyan’s custodial death…”. They state that the authorities are required to “inform at least a person in Suriyan’s family prior to the autopsy being performed.” In addition, they point out that “Suriyan’s death was regarded as death while in the custody of authorities which meant concerned officials were required to comply with the Criminal Procedure Code law governing the decease’s autopsy…. The law required a police investigator, a public prosecutor, a physician and an administrative official to be present at the autopsy…”. Law does not not appear to apply in lese majeste cases or to the military dictatorship (unless they are using the law against others).

FIDH on lese majeste and the military dictatorship

21 05 2015

We are re-posting this important statement in full. It is from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH):

Thailand: Unprecedented number of lèse-majesté detentions call for urgent reform of Article 112

Paris, Bangkok, 20 May 2015: In the first 12 months under the rule of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Thailand experienced an unprecedented number of lèse-majesté detentions, FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said today.

“Unless the NCPO promotes an urgent reform of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, Thai jails will be increasingly populated by individuals who have merely exercised their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

According to research conducted by FIDH, since the junta seized power on 22 May 2014, at least 47 individuals have been detained under the draconian Article 112 of the Criminal Code. [1] Eighteen people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 50 years, for a combined total of 159 years – an average of eight years and eight months each. In most cases, defendants saw their sentences halved because they pleaded guilty to the charges.

Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”

Prosecutions under Article 112 are likely to continue at a steady pace in the coming months. On 24 April 2015, police said that there were 204 active lèse-majesté cases, of which 128 were under investigation. Authorities are also set to target lèse-majesté suspects beyond Thailand’s national borders. On 21 March 2015, junta-appointed Minister of Justice Gen Paiboon Koomchaya said the military-backed government would seek the extradition of 30 Thais living in exile who have been charged under Article 112.

FIDH and UCL urge the authorities to end lèse-majesté prosecutions of individuals who exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The two organizations also urge the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all individuals imprisoned under Article 112 for having exercised their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

“Protection of the monarchy must not impinge on the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion and expression. It’s time for the NCPO to heed the numerous UN recommendations for reform and bring Article 112 in line with international law,” urged UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn.

Various UN human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Thailand to amend Article 112 and ensure that it complies with the country’s obligations under international human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. In the latest statement by a UN official, on 1 April 2015, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye expressed concern over the increasing arrests and detentions under Article 112 and called for an end to the criminalization of dissenting opinions.

Press contacts:
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
UCL: Mr. Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn (Thai, English) – Tel: +66890571755 (Bangkok)

[1] This number does not include individuals who have been detained under Article 112 in connection with the prosecution of relatives of former Princess Srirasmi

Lese majeste detentions skyrocket under military rule

23 11 2014

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is an important “international NGO defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It acts in the legal and political field for the creation and reinforcement of international instruments for the protection of Human Rights and for their implementation.” It has released this statement on lese majeste repression in Thailand:

Thailand’s military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), must end the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of individuals under the country’s draconian lèse-majesté laws, FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) urged today. Fifteen of the 20 individuals currently behind bars on lèse-majesté charges have been either detained or imprisoned after the 22 May 2014 military coup.

“Under the pretext of protecting the monarchy, the junta has embarked on a witch hunt that has significantly eroded fundamental human rights,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “Trials in military courts, closed-door proceedings, and the systematic denial of the right to bail have become a disturbing reality of the junta’s overzealous enforcement of lèse-majesté laws.”

“The junta must immediately end the unnecessary deprivation of liberty for alleged violators of lèse-majesté laws and restore all guarantees of fair trials,” urged UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn.

Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”

Under the military junta, authorities have stepped up investigations, arrests, and prosecution of individuals suspected of lèse-majesté.

On 14 October 2014, National Police Acting Deputy Chief Lt Gen Chakthip Chaijinda said that police aimed at bringing charges in about 50% of the 93 lèse-majesté active investigations by the end of the year.

Since 22 May, 18 individuals have been arrested for allegedly violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Two have been released on bail and five have been sentenced to prison terms for offenses committed before the military coup, with one released on a suspended sentence.

On 18 November, a military court in Bangkok deliberated its first case and sentenced web radio host Kathawuth Boonpitak, 59, to five years in prison. The court found Kathawut guilty of making comments that defamed the monarchy during a political talk show aired on his website in March 2014. Defendants cannot appeal the verdicts of military courts.

On 4 November, a Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced 24-year-old student Akkaradet Iamsuwan to two-and-a-half years in prison under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act. Akkaradet was found guilty of posting a Facebook message on 15 March 2014 that the court deemed it insulted the monarchy and threatened national security.

On 1 September, a Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced behind closed doors Chaleo Jankiad, a 55-year-old tailor, to a three-year suspended prison term for uploading to the web an audio clip in late 2011 that was deemed to be offensive of the monarchy. Chaleo is the only defendant who has been released as a result of a suspended sentence.

On 14 August, a Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced Yuthasak [last name withheld], a 43-year-old taxi driver, to five years in prison. Yuthasak was accused by a passenger, a Chulalongkorn University lecturer, of expressing anti-monarchy views. The passenger recorded the conversation on her phone and filed a lèse-majesté complaint against Yuthasak in January 2014.

On 31 July, the Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Court sentenced 28-year-old musician [name withheld] to 15 years in prison under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 14 of the Computer Crimes Act. The court found him guilty of posting messages on Facebook between 2011 and 2012 that were deemed to insult the monarchy.

All five defendants saw their original sentences halved because they pleaded guilty to the charges.

In addition to these verdicts, on 19 September, the Court of Appeals upheld a Bangkok Criminal Court’s lèse-majesté conviction of Somyot Phrueksakasemsuk. The court failed to inform Somyot, his lawyer, and his family members that the hearing would take place on that day. On 19 November, Somyot filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against his conviction. Court officials have denied Somyot’s requests for bail 15 times. Somyot suffers from hypertension and he is not receiving adequate treatment at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

In the overwhelming majority of lèse-majesté cases, courts have denied bail for detainees awaiting trial. FIDH and UCL believe that this deprivation of liberty is in violation of the principle that release must be the rule and provisional detention the exception, as stipulated by Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State party.

Targeting Surachai

27 01 2013

Part of the 1985 cover of the UCL Newsleter

Many readers will know that Surachai Danwattananusorn has been incarcerated on several lese majeste charges since 22 February 2011. On 28 February 2012, the then 71 year-old Surachai was sentenced to 15 years in jail for speeches made in late 2010. This was halved for his guilty plea.  On 27 April 2012, Surachai was sentenced to a further 5 years in jail. The court halved this sentence because of his guilty plea on the previous charges.  On 17 May 2012, he was hospitalized and scheduled for a prostrate operation. He came out of jail and hospital to be sentenced on yet one more charge on 28 May 2012. He received a further 5 years, reduced by half, for a speech on 15 December 2008. That’s a total of 12.5 years in jail. Surachai filed for a royal pardon on 20 August 2012.

At New Mandala, which has been surprisingly quiet on recent lese majeste cases and sentences, academic Jim Taylor has a brief interview with Surachai. PPT won’t repeat the details here, but we do want to add to the story from a document we recently came across from the mid-1980s. That was an appeal from the Union of Civil Liberty for Surachai, who had been tried in a kangaroo/military court under the administration of unelected Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda, now Privy Council president. He was eventually released after an international and local campaign.

Undoubtedly Surachai has been a confrontational political activist. That is why the royalist state and the Prem and Abhisit Vejjajiva governments targeted him. It seems that the leaders of the royalist cabal, miffed that they couldn’t halt his activities in the 1980s have long memories and came after him again as he led Red Siam. As there has been not a peep from above regarding his amnesty, it seems he has a second “death” sentence at the hands of essentially the same cabal.

Open letter on human rights

10 09 2011

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is getting plenty of advice on human rights of late. Following the letter by 112 international scholars on lese majeste and computer crimes, she has now received one from the International Federation for Human Rights and Union for Civil Liberty on a range of human rights issues.

This letter covers restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, the death penalty, special security laws (including Martial Law, the Emergency Decree, and the Internal Security Act), impunity of government officials and members of state security forces and unequal access to the justice system, refugees and asylum, and co-operation with and commitment to U.N. human rights mechanisms.

As the letter notes, none of these are particularly new issues for Thailand, but the authors urge Yingluck “to make effective protection and promotion of human rights a top priority in your administration.”

Human rights groups awaken

21 12 2010

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) posts a statement released by Thailand’s Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Union of Civil Liberties (UCL), Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR), Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) regrading the extra-judicial killing of “Joke Phaikeaw” by the police. See the Bangkok Post’s story on the murder here.

It is good to see a set of human rights groups getting together on a case of abuse. One would hope that they would also show such solidarity more rigorously in fearlessly attacking all human rights abuses in Thailand, even those with political ramifications. PPT knows that a couple of this group has been prepared to be independent and we hope that this is a beginning of a trend where human rights organizations will be driven by human rights rather than political side-taking.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward to you the following statement released by Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Union of Civil Liberties (UCL), Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR), Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) regrading the extra-judicial killing of “Joke Phaikeaw” by the police. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward to you the following statement released by Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Union of Civil Liberties (UCL), Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR), Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) regrading the extra-judicial killing of “Joke Phaikeaw” by the police.

Updated: Human rights muddle

10 02 2010
Update: We used the right term for this post – “muddle”. If you don’t believe it, read this editorial in The Nation (11 February 2010) and compare it with the Kavi article below.
The Nation (8 February 2010) has an editorial on human rights that is about as muddled as one can get. Entitled “Thailand in the world spotlight on human rights” the editorial writer has this tortured logic (pun intended):

The current Thai government is somehow remiss for “allowing” Thailand’s human rights record to be scrutinized by outsiders, viz: “Thailand is either very smart or the silliest country in the world for allowing the international community, especially human rights organisations, to scrutinise its human rights record,” and “One wonders how many countries in the world, especially within Asean, would allow these organisations to dissect the government’s legislation and practices to the tee.”

This is dumb, misinformed or both. The organizations mentioned are Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission for Jurists (ICJ), both of which regularly report on a large range of countries, including many that actively try to prevent scrutiny.

At another level these statements are deeply troubling for suggesting that perhaps Thailand should join those countries that try to prevent scrutiny or define human rights in terms that allow abuses.

Yet the author agrees that the “verdict is quite clear: Thailand can do better than it has recently.” Then it is stated: “Thailand genuinely believes in democracy and human rights. This government has a policy to promote and protect human rights inside the country and within the Asean region.” Then, this preposterous statement: “Luckily, Thailand is improving in its human rights record by the day.”

The point of the HRW report was to point to a list of abuses. This is not saying that things are getting better. The author says the HRW report is a “good example of how a well-respected human rights advocacy group would like to see greater improvement of rights practices in Thailand. So, HRW came out with harsh criticism and lists of recommendations.” The issue is partly that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has made a song and dance of saying it protects human rights but does something else.

Then, like a number of government supporters who have been sent out to work on the blogs, the editor states: “HRW overdid it in the press release attacking Thailand’s human rights record, especially the government’s response to political turmoil due to the polarisation of various political pressure groups.”

This is a fallacy. The press release shows little substantive difference from the full report. It is just much shorter and uses some synonyms that lazy readers, including government ministers, chose to interpret as having a deep and dangerous meaning. The government’s chief of censorship and propaganda, Sathit Wongnongtoey – described in the editorial as making “immature comments” – actually accused HRW of getting red shirt information and publishing it. As PPT pointed out at the time , the press release sections on “political turmoil” matched the government’s own statements at the time of the Songkhran Uprising.

The editorial then goes off on a “I love Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva” tangent, claiming that Abhisit welcomed the HRW report as “a noble objective.” It is added that “Abhisit was not perturbed by the report, which he pledged to investigate further on alleged human rights violations here. It was only Abhisit’s own ethics and belief in human rights that let such a hard personal attack on him pass. If previous governments had been involved, representatives of the HRW would have been expelled without doubt.”

Readers of PPT knows that we have repeatedly pointed out that Abhisit has a penchant for PR statements that are then shown to be untrue, so we have no illusions that would suggest that we should love Abhisit as the only noble amongst a bunch of nasty, horrible politicians. Our comments on Abhisit’s odd initial comments on the HRW report are here.

The comment on human rights representatives being expelled seems odd. As far as PPT can recall (correct us if we are wrong) no representative of an international human rights organization has been expelled in the past decade and more. We think the last person expelled who was involved with human rights was back in mid-2000. Of course, Thaksin Shinawatra wasn’t too fond of international scrutiny on human rights and was wont to overreact.

Remarkably, the editorial admits the gap between Abhisit’s promises and what happens on the ground. This is the explanation: “the biggest problem so far has been whenever there are clear policies emanating from Abhisit and concerned authorities on rights issues, officials on the ground have failed to implement them in effective ways, especially in the troubled South. So, there are great discrepancies between pronounced policies and implementation; encouraging the stereotype belief that the Abhisit government has double standards and is hypocritical.”

Stereotype? Rohinga, Hmong, Karen stereotypes? Lese majeste stereotypes? And so on. Actually, this is a chorus now emanating from the Democrat Party. Its tripe, but the more ludicrous expansions of this involve an evil plot by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups to destabilize the government. PPT thinks the polite terminology for this is grasping at straws.

The editorial writer describes the ICJ report on the use of the Internal Security Act as an “excellent report [that] urged the Thai government to improve on this frequently used legislation to ensure that Thai human rights are properly protected in times of political crisis.” The ICJ states: “While welcoming significant improvements to previous draft versions of the bill, the report warns that the ISA risks undermining the rule of law by conferring broad and vaguely defined preventative powers to the military-dominated Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).” Its report expresses three main concerns:

· That many definitions and provisions are vague and overbroad, thus potentially criminalising a wide range of behaviours that pose no security threat;

· That fundamental rights – particularly those relating to liberty and security of the person, fair trial and due process, freedom of movement, association and expression – are at risk of being violated; and

· That sweeping powers granted to security forces risk undermining the principles of civilian authority and democratic governance.

This is trenchant criticism from an organization that is often reasonably conservative in the language it chooses.

The editorial then talks of the “key role” that the government played “in establishing the Asean Intergovernmental Commissioner for Human Rights.” The writer doesn’t point out that almost every sensible human rights agency thinks this mechanism is toothless if not useless.

In the end, is seeking to blame anyone but the very nice Mr. Abhisit, the editorial writer rounds on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The writer argues that the “current NHRC team has been a big disappointment for its failure to probe key human rights issues.” That’s an understatement.

But the editorial writer wants the NHRC to release more annual reports about the state of human rights in the country to educate Thai people. Well, yes, but the current NHRC is a toothless and largely unqualified panel that is really meant to be benign for the government.

It is clear that the writer wants better human rights in Thailand but the response is so muddled by the political debates of recent years that the writer can’t do much more than come up with a mish-mash of contradictions while knowing only that Abhisit has to be supported. The writer must know that letting the military and police get back huge and unchecked powers is a major reason for human rights abuses in Thailand under all governments. Abhisit owes his position to the military. That’s an unlikely foundation for improved human rights in Thailand.

What the writer forgets is that there is a human rights NGO in Thailand with a long history. And it happens that they have just released a report on 2009. We refer to the Union of Civil Liberty. UCL has had a long history of taking on difficult issues, but it too was and remains caught up in the remarkable political side-taking and censorship and self-censorship regarding the monarchy that has been heightened in recent years, so what is noticeably missing from their attempt at evenhandedness is any mention of political arrests under lese majeste (in the past, UCL was once a brave defender of those charged) and under the Computer Crimes Act. Even so, their assessment is an antidote to the Nation’s muddleheadedness.

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