Thailand: Ongoing judicial harassment against four pro-democracy activists and a journalist

07/10/2016
Urgent Appeal

New Information
THA 004 / 0716 / OBS 053.4
Judicial harassment
Thailand
October 7, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has 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 ongoing judicial harassment against four Neo Democracy Movement (NDM) [1] activists, namely Messrs. Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, Anan Loket, and Phanuwat Songsawadchai, as well as Prachatai journalist Mr. Taweesak Kerdpoka for distributing leaflets that urged voters to reject the draft Constitution that was eventually adopted in a referendum held on August 7, 2016.

According to the information received, on September 21, 2016, the Ratchaburi Provincial Court formally charged the five above-mentioned defenders for alleged violation of Article 61 of the Referendum Act [2] after holding a conciliation session. Before the session, the defendants filed a petition to the Attorney General at the Ratchaburi Provincial Prosecutors’ Office, requesting the acquittal of the case.

During the hearing, the Court asked the five defendant to plead guilty so that the sentence could be reduced. They refused to do so as they believed their prosecution aimed at sanctioning their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression. If found guilty, they face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, a fine of 200,000 Thai Baht (approx. 5,125 Euro), and the loss of their electoral rights for 10 years. The Court will proceed to a witnesses and evidence deposition at 8.30 am on October 17, 2016, as previously scheduled.

The Observatory strongly condemns the above-mentioned judicial harassment and calls on the Thai authorities to drop all charges against the five and repeal Article 61 of the Referendum Act. Until all charges are dropped, the Observatory urges the Thai authorities to ensure all judicial proceedings against the five are carried out in full compliance with their right to a fair trial, as guaranteed under international law.

Background Information:

On July 10, 2016, at around 11:30am, officers from the Ban Pong police station in Ratchaburi province detained Messrs. Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, Anan Loket, and 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 fellow pro-democracy activists who had been summoned to answer charges of violating the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558, which bans gatherings of five or more people. The charges stemmed from the 18 activists’ participation in a ceremony to open referendum-monitoring centers in the province on June 16, 2016. Mr. TaThe Neo Democracy Movement (NDM) is an organisation advocating for the restoration of democracy, for the end of trials against civilians before military courts, and for the respect of human rights and freedoms. NDM is driven by five principles: democracy, human rights, justice, public participation, and peaceful means (non-violence).weesak 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 released all five, with bail set at 140,000 Thai baht (approx. 3,590 Euro) each.

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 newspaper’s involvement in printing anti-draft Constitution documents and other material produced by NDM. Ms. Chiranuch denied any involvement of Prachatai in the printing of such material.

The Observatory recalls that on June 23, 2016, 13 NDM activists, including Mr. Anan Loket, had been arrested by military personnel at a market on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province, while handing out leaflets that urged voters to reject the draft Constitution. They were all charged with violating the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015, 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 Thai baht, and have their right to vote revoked by court for up to 10 years under the Referendum Act.

On June 24, 2016, six of the activists were released on a bail of 50,000 Thai 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.

On July 6, the Department of Corrections released six of the seven democracy activists.

The one remaining in detention, Mr. Korakoch Saengyenpan, 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. 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) [3].

It was reported that the majority of the detainees lost weight during the span of their custody.

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 Messrs. Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, Anan Loket,, Phanuwat Songsawadchai, and Taweesak Kerdpoka as well as against all activists charged under the Referendum Act and the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015;

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

iiii. Repeal the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015 and amend Article 61 of the Referendum Act;

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

v. 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;

vi. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on HumaThe Neo Democracy Movement (NDM) is an organisation advocating for the restoration of democracy, for the end of trials against civilians before military courts, and for the respect of human rights and freedoms. NDM is driven by five principles: democracy, human rights, justice, public participation, and peaceful means (non-violence).n Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2;

vii. 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, October 7, 2016

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    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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