Thailand: End crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy activists, lift emergency decree

16/10/2020
Statement

Paris-Geneva, October 16, 2020 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) urges the Thai authorities to immediately release pro-democracy activists who have been arbitrarily detained in connection with a large-scale peaceful demonstration held in Bangkok on October 14-15, 2020. The Observatory also reiterates its calls for an end to all acts of harassment against peaceful activists.

On the morning of October 14, 2020, tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Democracy Monument in Bangkok and marched to areas just outside of Government House, where they remained until police dispersed them beginning at approximately 4:00am on October 15, 2020.

The dispersal occurred after Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha issued an Emergency Decree that came into effect at 4:00am on October 15 and could last for up to 30 days. The Emergency Decree applies to Bangkok and introduces serious restrictions on the exercise of fundamental human rights. Such restrictions include: 1) a ban on public gatherings of more than four people; and 2) a ban on “the publication of news, other media, and electronic information that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order.”

In the hours that followed the dispersal of the protest on October 15, police arrested at least 27 demonstrators in connection with the protest, including pro-democracy activists Messrs. Anon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Prasit Khrutharot, Nutchanon Pairoj, and Ms. Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul. Four of the 27 were later released without charges. Messrs. Anon, Parit, Prasit, Nutchanon and Ms. Panusaya were charged with “sedition” (Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code). The other 18 were charged under the newly promulgated Emergency Decree. Messrs. Anon and Prasit were transported to Chiang Mai, where the Chiang Mai Criminal Court refused to grant them bail. Ms. Panusaya and Messrs. Parit and Nutchanon were also denied bail by the Thanyaburi Provincial Court.

On October 16, 2020, police arrested pro-democracy activist Mr. Ekachai Hongkangwan outside his Bangkok residence and fellow activist Mr. Boonkueanoon Paothong turn himself in at a Bangkok police station. The previous day, the Bangkok Criminal Court had issued arrest warrants for the two in relation to charges of “committing or attempting to commit an act of violence against the Queen” under Article 110 of the Criminal Code. The charges stemmed from the presence of Messrs. Ekachai and Boonkueanoon among a crowd of peaceful protesters in the vicinity of the royal motorcade near Government House on October 14. Punishments under Article 110 can range from 16 years in prison to life or the death penalty. The two are currently detained at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 in Pathumthani Province, north of Bangkok.

Previously, on October 13, 2020, police arrested 21 pro-democracy activists, including Mr. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, for gathering at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. On October 14, 2020, the Dusit Municipal Court and the Criminal Court in Bangkok denied bail to Mr. Jatupat and his fellow activists, respectively. The courts argued that the activists’ actions were seditious and that they may cause unrest and repeat the same offense, if released. Mr. Jatupat and the other 16 male activists remain detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison and the three female activists are being held at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok, Only one of them, a 17-year-old activist, was released on bail by the Juvenile Court on October 14, 2020.

The Observatory strongly condemns all the above-mentioned arrests of pro-democracy activists and is concerned about the increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in Thailand. The Observatory is extremely concerned over the fact that Thai authorities have selectively and repeatedly targeted leaders of the pro-democracy protests. The Observatory urges the Thai government to immediately lift the Emergency Decree and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against pro-democracy activists, and to guarantee, under any circumstances, their right to peacefully assemble and to express their opinions without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is 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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