Thailand: Annual report underscores inequalities, double standards in the treatment of prisoners

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Inequalities and double standards characterized the treatment of prisoners in Thailand in 2023, FIDH and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said in their annual prison report released today. While the preferential treatment of inmates of higher social status has been a longstanding feature of Thailand’s penitentiary system, the case of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has drawn national and international attention to this issue.

Bangkok, Paris, 19 March 2024: The 56-page report covers developments, trends, facts, and figures related to the Thai prison system from 1 January to 31 December 2023. Interviews conducted by FIDH with former prisoners released at various times in 2023 revealed that wealthy, well-known, or influential prisoners typically enjoyed a wide range of privileges over the general prison population including: sleeping dormitories with fewer occupants; better quality mattresses for sleeping; priority in receiving meals that were more nutritious; and certain levels of impunity when committing disciplinary offenses.

In Thai prisons, while most inmates endure sub-standard conditions in violation of their human rights, a few enjoy privileges and special treatment. Authorities must improve conditions for all prisoners without discrimination and ensure they are treated humanely and with dignity in accordance with international standards and Thailand’s human rights obligations,” said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

The report also found that prison conditions remained poor, with ongoing challenges reported by former prisoners in numerous areas, including: conditions of accommodation; punishment; quality of food and drinking water; access to healthcare; work; contacts with the outside world; recreational and rehabilitative activities; and complaint procedures.

Among the few positive developments was the provision of better quality bedding, reported by most interviewed prisoners, while former female prisoners reported that feminine hygiene products were adequately available.

Overcrowding continued to plague prisons, with 112 (or 78%) of Thailand’s 143 correctional facilities operating above their official capacity. The number of inmates jailed for drug-related offenses continued to account for the vast majority (75%) of the total prison population. In addition, for the first time since 2019, the total prison population increased (+4.5%) year-on-year, and, for the second consecutive year, the number of prisoners under death sentence went up (+43%).

Meanwhile, in 2023, Thai prisoners across the country were barred from voting in the general election, which took place on 14 May 2023. This blanket disenfranchisement of up to at least a quarter of a million citizens is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards.

Now in its third edition, FIDH’s and UCL’s annual prison report is the only independent and comprehensive assessment of prison conditions in Thailand. The report makes numerous practical recommendations for the improvement of prison conditions in accordance with relevant international standards.

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