Serious concerns over threats against minority rights activists and WHRDs in Thailand

Association

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights defenders (HRD) working to promote ethnic minorities' rights in Thailand face threats, violence and even extrajudicial killings. As featured in the last update on Thailand, the killing of 17-year-old activist Chaiyaphum Pasae in March 2017 by Thai security forces led to international outrage. Pasae's killing has increased concern over the lack of protection for rights activists in the country.  

Following Pasae's murder, HRD Maitree Chamroensuksakul's house was raided by police on 29th May 2017 after he had returned from a meeting with the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. Many view the harassment of Chamroensuksakul as a reprisal for speaking out about the authorities' alleged role in the killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae. Chamroensuksakul also claims to have received death threats since March 2016.

In a separate incident, a prominent woman human rights defender (WHRD) has also suffered harassment at the hands of Thai authorities. On 7th June 2017, security forces visited the home of Chonticha Jaengrew in Lat Lum Kaeo district of Pathum Thani province and warned her to stay away from all political activities. Jaengrew has gained prominence as an active member of both the New Democracy Movement and the Democracy Restoration Group, two organisations considered to be critical of the government. Jaengrew and her family have been subjected to repeated harassment from authorities in an attempt to intimidate her from being involved in human rights activities. Security forces have allegedly visited her family's home over 30 times. Jaengrew's case epitomises a situation wherein WHRDs face serious risks for promoting and protecting human rights in Thailand. 

In a recent report published on the 3rd July 2017, international and regional civil society organisations have drawn attention to the worrying number and frequency of threats against WHRDs in Thailand. In a statement, the authors of the report, Protection InternationalInternational Federation for Human RightsAsia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development and Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders declared:  

“The all-male Thai military junta has created an increasingly hostile environment for women human rights defenders. To fulfil Thailand’s obligations under the CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), the junta must take immediate steps towards combating discrimination and protecting women who work to defend human rights".

The report was released ahead of Thailand's review by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on 5th July 2017.

Expression

Due to restrictive defamation laws, activists who criticise the Thai authorities can face severe consequences. On 8th May 2017, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that the number of individuals arrested on anti-government charges since the military coup in May 2014 has surpassed 100. Thailand's lèse-majesté laws are among the strictest in the world and afford authorities broad powers to imprison anyone who insults or defames the royal family for up to fifteen years. Despite a growing chorus of domestic and international criticism, Thai authorities have yet to amend the restrictive legislation to comply with international human rights obligations. 

In a recent example of the harsh sentences for allegedly defaming the royal family, on 9th June 2017 an individual was sentenced to 35 years in prison for posting pictures from a fake social media account. An individual only known as Wichai was prosecuted for sharing pictures and videos of the Thai royal family on Facebook. Wichai's second name was purposefully omitted from the details of the case to protect his family. 

After being charged with ten counts of defamation, Wichai pleaded guilty and his sentence was reduced, as local media law watchdog, iLaw, stated:

“The court punished him with seven years per count. Altogether he was given 70 years, but it was reduced in half because he confessed”.

The broad application of the defamation law to persecute dissidents and critics of the government has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Many of those targeted are democracy activists and outspoken critics who are often abducted and interrogated in military camps before being formally charged.

As space for online expression continues to close, Amnesty International recently reported that Thai authorities are allegedly drafting laws which oblige internet platforms to remove content upon official request. Such powers, without sufficient judicial oversight, could completely eradicate the few online spaces for dissenting voices.