Thailand: Ongoing harassment of Prachatai journalist Mr. Taweesak Kerdpoka

14/07/2016
Urgent Appeal

New Information
THA 002 / 0716 / OBS 053.3
Harassment / Intimidation /
Judicial harassment
Thailand
July 14, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Thailand.

New Information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the Thai authorities’ ongoing harassment of Prachatai journalist Mr. Taweesak Kerdpoka after his release from detention on July 11, 2016 (see background information).

According to the information received, on July 12, 2016, five plainclothes police officers from Sutthisan Police Station and a number of soldiers entered the Prachatai journal premises in Bangkok with a search warrant. While the officials did not confiscate anything, they thoroughly searched the personal desk of Mr. Taweesak in addition to the other journalists’ desks and individual lockers. The authorities also questioned Prachatai Executive Director Chiranuch Premchaiporn about allegations of the organization’s involvement in printing anti-draft constitution documents and other material produced by the Neo Democracy Movement (NDM). [1] Ms. Chiranuch denied any involvement of Prachatai in the printing of such material.

The Observatory strongly condemns the Thai authorities for this act of intimidation and harassment towards Mr. Taweesak and all the Prachatai staff, as they are clearly aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and calls upon the authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to all acts of harassment against them, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory calls on the Thai authorities to drop all charges against Mr. Taweesak under Article 61 of the Referendum Act, [2] amend this clause, and repeal the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order no. 3/2558. [3] Article 61 of the Referendum Act and Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558 do not comply with international human rights conventions ratified by Thailand, especially with respect to the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Until all charges are dropped, the Observatory urges the Thai authorities to ensure all judicial proceedings against Mr. Taweesak are carried out in full compliance with his right to a fair trial, as protected under international law. Furthermore, the Observatory urges the Thai authorities to grant adequate reparations to human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained.

Background Information:

On June 23, 2016, at around 5.30pm, 13 NDM activists, namely Messrs. Rangsiman Rome, [4] Korakoch Saengyenpan, Anan Loket, Thirayut Napnaram, Rackchart Wong-arthichart, Yuttana Dasri, Worawut Butmat, Somsakol Thongsuksai, Nantapong Panmat and Misses Tueanjai Waengkham, Pimai Ratwongsa, Konchanok Tanakhun, and Phanthip Saengathit, were arrested by military personnel at the market of Kan Keha Bang Phli community on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province, while handing out leaflets that urged voters to reject the draft constitution in a referendum to be held on August 7, 2016.

All the activists were apprehended and taken to the Bang Sao Thong police station and their campaign material was confiscated. They were held in police custody overnight and were all charged with violating the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558, which bans gatherings of five or more people, and Article 61 of the 2016 Constitutional Referendum Act, which bans the dissemination of “false information” about the draft charter with the aim of influencing voters. If found guilty, all 13 could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (approx. 5,125 Euro), and have their right to vote revoked by court for up to 10 years under the Referendum Act.

On June 24, 2016, the 13 activists were brought to their pre-trial remand hearing at the Bangkok Military Court, where the police asked the court to have them remanded for 12 days in order to provide sufficient time to conduct the investigation, as well as for fear of repetition of the crime. The court dismissed the motion filed by the defendants’ attorney to object to the police request and approved the pre-trial remand.

Six of the activists were released on a bail of 50,000 Baht (approx. 1,280 Euro) each, under the condition that they do “not get involved with any act aimed to instigate, disrupt public order, persuade, compel people to rise up by any means possible in order to make possible any public assembly which may bring about public disorder or cause any harm or infringement on peace, order or the moral high ground of the people or any act which may induce people to commit a legal offence”.

The other seven activists did not submit bail requests, arguing that they had done nothing wrong and that they would not accept conditions for their release. They were remanded in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison until July 5, 2016, when the defendants’ attorney was expected to file another motion to object to a further remand.

On July 6 at around 8.30am, the Department of Corrections released six of the seven democracy activists, after on July 5, 2016, at approximately 3.15pm, the Bangkok Military Court rejected a police request to extend the detention of the seven activists for another 12 days.

Mr. Korakoch Saengyenpan was not released and was transported to the Thonburi police station because of previous charges he faced in connection with another case against 11 pro-democracy activists who undertook an “advocacy trip” to demand the opening of an investigation into alleged corruption in the construction of the military-sponsored Rajabhakti Park in Prachuab Kirikhan province in December 2015. [5] He was finally released on the same day, July 6, at about 4:30pm. Bail was set at 10,000 Thai baht (approx. 250 Euro).

It has been reported that the majority of the detainees lost weight during the span of their custody. Most notably, Mr. Rangsiman Rome is said to have lost at least 10 kg during his 12-day detention.

On July 10, 2016, at around 11:30am, officers from the Ban Pong police station in Ratchaburi province detained three other NDM activists, Messrs. Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, and Anan Loket, and Prachatai journalist Mr. Taweesak Kerdpoka for alleged violation of Article 61 of the Referendum Act, after they searched Mr. Pakorn’s pick-up truck and found booklets that criticized Thailand’s draft constitution. The three NDM activists had travelled to the Ban Pong police station to show support for 18 activists who had been summoned to answer charges of violating the Head of the NCPO no. 3/2558. The charges stemmed from the 18 activists’ participation in a ceremony to open referendum-monitoring centers in the province on June 16, 2016. Mr. Taweesak was accompanying the three NDM activists to report on their activity. University student activist Mr. Phanuwat Songsawadchai, who had attended the June 16 ceremony, was arrested at his home on the same day at 8:20pm.

On July 11, 2016, the Ratchaburi Provincial Court granted police permission to detain the above-mentioned four activists and journalist. However, at around 4:30pm, all five were released, with bail set at 140,000 Thai baht (approx. 3,590 Euro) each.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Thailand asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Taweesak Kerdpoka and all the Prachatai staff, as well as against all human rights defenders and journalists in Thailand;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against against all activists charged under the Referendum Act and the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of of all activists and journalists who merely exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression and their right to freedom of peaceful assembly;

iv. Repeal the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558 banning gatherings of more than five people and amend Article 61 of the Referendum Act;

v. Guarantee that the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly are not prosecuted under Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code;

vi. Put an end to the prosecution of civilians in military courts in accordance with international human rights law that prohibits governments from using military courts to try civilians when civilian courts are functioning;

vii. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2;

viii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Thailand.

Addresses:

• Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 282 5131
• Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fax: +66 (0) 2 643 5320; Email: minister@mfa.go.th
• Gen Paiboon Khumchaya, Minister of Justice, Fax: +66 (0) 2 953 0503
• Pol Gen Somyot Poompanmoung, Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, Fax: +66 (0) 2 251 5956 / +66 (0) 2 251 8702
• Mr. Wat Tingsamit, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand; Email: help@nhrc.or.th
• H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 715 10 00 / 10 02; Email: mission.thailand@ties.itu.int
• H.E. Ms. Busaya Mathelin, Ambassador, Embassy of Thailand in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 648 30 66; Email: thaibxl@thaiembassy.be

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Thailand in your respective country.

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    Geneva-Paris, July 14, 2016

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