(Bangkok, May 27, 2015) – Rohingya and other survivors of dangerous boat voyages fromBurma and Bangladesh describe horrific treatment by unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers in Burma, and abuse and neglect aboard ships, Human Rights Watch said today. Aregional meeting scheduled on May 29, 2015, in Bangkok must find solutions to the so-called boat people exodus.
Rohingya explained to Human Rights Watch how they endured two months at sea, packed below decks in cramped conditions with limited food and water and very poor sanitation. Boats carrying approximately 100 mostly Rohingya men and women each abandoned passengers at an undisclosed location along Thailand’s coast, leaving them to fend for themselves until they were found by the Thai authorities. According to international agencies, 3,000 to 4,000 people may still be aboard ships at sea.
“Survivors describe how they flee persecution in Burma only to fall into the hands of traffickers and extortionists, in many cases witnessing deaths and suffering abuse and hunger,” saidBrad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Interviews with officials and others make clear that these brutal networks, with the complicity of government officials in Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia, profit from the desperation and misery of some of the world’s most persecuted and neglected people.”
Regional states and other governments with the ability should make commitments to redouble search-and-rescue efforts and ensure that thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers and migrants have full access to procedures for seeking international protection and humanitarian assistance, Human Rights Watch said.
“Burma and Bangladesh need to stop persecuting Rohingya, while Thailand and Malaysia urgently need to shut down camps where boat people are held to end abuses and ensure that no more mass graves are created on their soil,” Adams said.
In recent weeks scores of boats carrying thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers and migrants from Burma and Bangladesh have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The three governments responded by pushing the boats back out to sea, leading to domestic and international condemnation and forcing them to reconsider these policies. In response to pressure, the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Kuala Lumpur on May 21. Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to permit boats to land, but only with the proviso that the international community provide humanitarian assistance and help resettle or repatriate all the passengers within one year.
Conditions for Rohingya in Burma are extremely dire, with limited access to education, employment, and the freedom to travel or observe their own religion cited as reasons for flight. Some flee voluntarily to escape these abusive conditions, but Rohingya also told Human Rights Watch that in some cases, smugglers lured and duped people to make the sea journey without disclosing what was involved, and sometimes handed them over to traffickers.
One 13-year-old Rohingya girl told Human Rights Watch how men grabbed her in front of her family: “They dragged me to the boat, they had sticks, and threatened to beat me. I screamed, I cried loudly. My parents were weeping, but they couldn’t do anything.”
Another 16-year-old Rohingya girl said:
There was a group of six men, they were Rakhine Buddhists from Bangladesh, they had knives and guns. They forced me to get on a boat, they told me I was leaving Myanmar [Burma]. They pushed me to the small boat, I fell into the water up to my shoulders. Fifteen other Rohingya were on that boat. All the people were forced onto the boat.
A third Rohingya girl told of being grabbed by traffickers along with her husband and child: “I was on the way to my father-in-law’s house with my husband when a broker and many men took us. They forced us onto the big boat. On the boat I couldn’t understand their [the traffickers’] language, I cannot speak Burmese or Rakhine, I don’t know who they are.”
In all instances, the conditions on the boats were terrible. One Rohingya girl told Human Rights Watch:
We spent two months on that boat, more people kept coming to the big boat, small boats all the time. We [the women] were under the boat, it was so small. I couldn’t see outside the boat, just feel it go up and down. People were throwing up, I felt dizzy and uncomfortable the whole time.
Another Rohingya girl said: “When I got to the big boat … I cannot explain my feeling I was so scared. We were about 16 people in one small room. The doors were always locked. The smugglers put the food and water through a small hole, we never saw them.”
The abuses continued on land. On May 25, Malaysian government authorities announced they had discovered as many as 139 similar graves in a series of 28 camps on the Malaysian side of the border. This followed the discovery of mass graves in Thailand in May. Thailand and Malaysia need to act immediately to close any remaining camps of victims and offer aid and protection to any survivors found.
Rohingya and Bangladeshis described how they have been held in camps in Thailand and Malaysia until they could pay a ransom. They were beaten and abused if they could not pay. One Rohingya woman who was held in such a camp on the Thai side of the border told Human Rights Watch that she was severely abused to force her relatives to pay up: “The brokers beat me with sticks and bamboo and put out cigarettes on my legs and ankles because I could not raise the money.”
The current crisis was in part sparked after the discovery of mass graves of peoplesuspected to be Rohingya and Bangladeshi. Pretending that the government did not know that Rohingya and others were regularly trafficked and smuggled to camps in Thailand on their way to Malaysia, the Thai authorities began a crackdown on transit camps on May 1.
The poor treatment of the Rohingya has been accompanied by callous remarks by regional leaders. Burma’s political leaders deny the existence of Rohingya, denouncing them as “illegal Bengalis.” Burmese officials initially denied any of the people in the boats came from Burma. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh said the migrant workers from her country were “mentally sick” and vowed to punish anyone leaving the country illegally. Prime Minister Tony Abbot of Australia called the boat people “reckless” and when asked if Australia would consider resettling any Rohingya found to be refugees, replied, “Nope, nope, nope.”
Ahead of the regional meeting on “Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean” convened by the Thai government on May 29 in Bangkok, the leaders of Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia should show greater recognition of and respect for the rights of the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis on these boats. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and other international agencies should be permitted access to survivors of boat voyages to assess their claims for protection in accordance with international standards and to help identify people who are fleeing persecution, those who were trafficked, and those who are migrating for economic reasons. Burma and Bangladesh should hold to account anyone found to be abusing Rohingya and others by coercing them or deliberately deceiving them to embark onto boats, where they are held in atrocious conditions.
“Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia need to agree to never again engage in pushbacks of people stuck at sea, find any remaining boats, bring the people on board to safe ports, and ensure that their rights are respected,” Adams said. “Just as important, there will be no long-term solution unless Burma ends its rights-abusing and discriminatory policies toward the Rohingya and joins other countries in taking action against smugglers and traffickers who abuse and prey on them.”
OZO Chaweng Samui joins ONYX Hospitality group in support of UNICEF’s Nepal Earthquake Children Appeal. The goal is to provide emergency relief to 1.7 million children and their families. About that many children are now in urgent need of aid in the areas that were worst hit by the earthquake. The 7.9 magnitude earthquake has […]
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Following a lively opening to the 14th Samui Regatta last night at Zico’s Brazilian Grill & Bar, it was down to the serious stuff of racing today and with 30 knots blowing at breakfast time, the signs were good. By the time the fleet was out at the startline and IRC Zero into sequence, the […]Read more...
The criminal court held a preliminary hearing of a man accused of defaming the monarchy on facebook in camera after six months of detention although the defendant claimed that the alleged lese majeste facebook was not his.
Bangkok’s Ratchada Criminal Court on Monday held a preliminary of Piya (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a 46 year old man, who was accused under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, lese majeste law, in camera.
The prosecutor reasoned that the hearing needed to be trial in camera because the case is related the revered Thai monarchy and might affect public morale.
“Because the case is related to the Thai monarchy which is revered by all people, the publicisation of the fact on the case during the proceeding is in appropriate,” said the prosecutor.
Piya was arrested on 11 December 2014. He was charged for allegedly posting lese majeste comments along with the pictures of the King on 27-28 July 2013 under the Facebook profile named Pongsathorn Bantorn, after individuals on the northern province of Nan and the central province of Nakhon Prathom filed lese majeste complaint against him to the Technology Crime Suppression Division.
At the hearing, Piya denied the allegations and said that the alleged lese majeste facebook profile was not his. Since his arrests, he always denied his involvement the lese majeste Facebook profile was not his although the picture on the profile was his picture, which was taken from the defendant’s Twitter and Google Plus account .
The defendant vowed to fight the case to prove his innocence.
In addition to Article 112, Piya is also charged under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Code, which forbids the importation of illegal computer contents.
The defence lawyer, said that the court will hold a preliminary hearing on the case again in 17 August and that, from 17-20 November, 20 plaintiff's witnesses will testify on the case.
Paris, Bangkok, 23 May 2015: Yesterday’s arbitrary arrests of students and activists are the latest example of the Thai military junta’s relentless repression of all forms of peaceful dissent, FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said today.
“Yesterday’s arbitrary arrests confirm that Thailand is ruled by a brutal dictatorship that has no respect for human rights and no tolerance for dissent,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “The international community must vigorously condemn the crackdown.”
On 22 May, authorities arrested about 50 students and activists during three separate peaceful demonstrations against the May 2014 coup - two in Bangkok and the other in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen.
In Khon Kaen, authorities arrested seven students from the Dao Din group for demonstrating against the coup at the city’s Democracy Monument. The seven were detained at the local Sri Phatcharin Army Camp and charged under junta Announcement 7/2557, which prohibits gatherings of more than five people. They were all released on bail this morning.
In Bangkok, 11 members from the Young People for Social Democracy Movement were briefly detained in the early afternoon at the Chana Songkhram police station after they attempted to hold a political forum at the October 14 Memorial.
In the evening, police and unidentified men wearing civilian clothes arrested at least 30 students who had gathered outside the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre (BACC) to mark the one-year anniversary of the May 2014 coup. Many of the students were forcefully dragged into the BACC before being transported and taken into custody at the Pathumwan police station. Two injured students received treatment at nearby hospitals. All the detained students were released without charges this morning.
“As General Prayuth was reiterating he would return happiness to the people during his weekly televised speech, dozens of peaceful student demonstrators were detained in Bangkok. This perfectly illustrates the contrast between the junta’s empty words and its repressive actions,” said UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn.
FIDH and UCL call on the authorities to end the arbitrary arrests of peaceful protestors. The two organizations also urge the authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in line with Thailand’s obligations under international law.Read more...
International pressure is building on Bangladesh and Myanmar to take urgent measures to save boatloads of stranded asylum seekers in danger of death by drowning or starvation in the Bay of Bengal. The ramshackle boats, thought to be loaded with Riphab refugees from Thailand, are organized by people smugglers, who prey on the migrants, often selling them into virtual slavery if they manage to make landfall undetected.
The exodus of asylum-seekers has been going on for years, amid allegations that officials were bribed to turn a blind eye to the trafficking if they were not actively complicit. But public awareness was raised a month ago by the discovery of mass graves in abandoned makeshift ‘transit camps’ on both sides of the porous Myanmar-Bangladesh border. The graves are thought to contain the bodies of victims who failed to survive the hazardous journey, though there is evidence that a number had been summarily executed by their captors.
While Bangladesh and Myanmar have come under criticism for their obvious reluctance to allow the boat people ashore, fearing a burden that may last for months if not years, most observers agree that the problem cannot be solved without addressing the root causes of the mass migration in Thailand itself.
The Riphab are a minority group from Thailand, although the government there, now in its fifteenth year under military rule, disowns them and says categorically that they are not Thai and are ‘politically foreign’. They are denied Thai citizenship, suffer severe discrimination and often see a perilous boat journey to Myanmar or Bangladesh as the only alternative to a wretched existence in their country of origin.
The name ‘Riphab’ is used by the Thai authorities as part of the proof that these people are not truly Thai. They claim it is an abbreviation of ‘Riphablikan’, which is not a Thai word, demonstrating their non-Thai origin. The Riphab themselves says that this name is in fact a term of abuse invented by their opponents, and that their true name derives from ‘Sathanarat’, a term of unimpeachably Thai origin.
The Thai authorities have, over the past few years, gone to extraordinary lengths to prove that the Riphab are not Thai. Physically they are indistinguishable from other Thais and they speak the same language. Most Riphab claim to have been born in Thailand into families that have lived there for centuries. Interestingly, the Thai authorities seem to acknowledge that some Riphab have ancestors, or even parents, who are Thai.
Mainstream Thai thinking, however, claims that their political beliefs mark them out as ‘others’ and argue that co-existence between ‘true Thais’ and Riphab is inconceivable. The most obvious difference between Riphab and Thais turns on their alleged attitude to national institutions. Most Thais find intolerable their insistence on thinking for themselves and questioning beliefs that most Thais accept automatically.
While some Riphab clearly hold political views that the Thai establishment wants to extirpate, many have testified that anyone can instantly be classified as Riphab solely on the basis of a denunciation by a ‘right-thinking’ Thai. ‘If someone wants you out of the way,’ said one victim, ‘they just call you a Riphab, whether you deserve it or not. Your fate is then sealed.’
Questionable genetic research claims to show that the Riphab are ‘mutants’, which is used to explain why some Riphab seem to spring from otherwise true-blooded Thai families. The True Thai Eugenics Institute, based for historical reasons in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, claims to have proved that Riphab lack certain genetic material that is required to qualify as real Thais. Internationally, this research is regarded as suspect and the conclusions have been scientifically challenged.
Others, more pointedly, claim that the Riphab are nothing more than ‘human trash’, a term that has entered the national discourse since it was used by long-standing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The Thai National Human Rights Commission uses this argument to justify its lack of interest in the plight of the Riphab, saying that it is responsible for protecting the rights of humans and it is not clear that the Riphab are human. ‘Trash has no rights,’ one Commissioner is quoted as saying.
Riphab who choose to remain in Thailand can expect to suffer repeated prosecutions under draconian anti-Riphab legislation, social ostracism, and denial of virtually all rights due to citizens. Importantly, they have been barred from voting in the never-ending series of constitutional referenda, where 27 progressively authoritarian draft constitutions have been submitted by the supposedly interim military government and consistently rejected by the voters. This explains the impressive longevity of the current administration which has remained in power for over 15 years.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).
Zico’s Brazilian Grill and Bar is owned and operated by Centara Hotels & Resorts. This popular dining venue opened its doors thirteen years ago after the Centara brought specialist consultants all the way from Brazil to ensure their dining experience was as authentic as possible. They certainly succeeded in their wish and have brought authentic […]
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Asia’s top yachts have come together at the Thai tropical island of Samui to battle it out for the 14th Samui Regatta honours – the curtain-closing event of the prestigious 2014/15 AsianYachting Grand Prix championship. Held 23rd to 30th May off Chaweng Beach, Samui Regatta comprises five days of racing in the tropics with six […]
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- 11 members of Young People for Social-Democracy Movement, Thailand (YPD), who organized a seminar on the topic of "22-22: Community Rights, Liberty, Education,” on the one-year anniversary of the coup, who are detained at Chana Songkhram police station.
- 7 students from the “Dao Din” group from Khon Kaen University were first detained at the Sripatcharin Army Camp (23rd Military Circle) and then taken for further detention at the Khon Kaen police station from 3 pm continuing until the present (10 pm). They have been charged with violating Head of NCPO order 3/2558 (2015) forbidding political demonstrations.
- 34 students have been detained at the Pathumwan police station from 6:30 pm until the present (10 pm) following participation in a symbolic art event entitled “1 year in which ...” in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center in order to express their feelings and thoughts from the year that has passed since the events of 22 May 2014.
- News reports indicate that many students were assasulted by state officials and state officials used unnecessary force in carrying out arrests, to the degree that some had to go to the hospital for treatment. These actions constitute the use of injurious force against peaceful, unarmed protestors. The arrests and detention are arbitrary.
- Officials refused to allow lawyers or those trusted (by the detained) to meet with those detained, which is a right of arrested individuals per Article 7/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code. They claimed that they had to wait for the order from their commander, but they photocopied the legal licences of the lawyers who asked to be allowed to enter to provide legal assistance. These actions constitute a threat to the lawyers’ carrying out of their duties. Further, to exercise power solely on the basis of the order of the commander is a denial of the durability of the law.
Kim has come a long way in her fight to kick cancer, her family, friends and the local as well as international community have come together to give her the financial resources she needs to wage her battle. Here is her lasest update. (To read more about Kim’s journey click here) Hello from Bangkok! Today, […]Read more...
Thai military officers arrested anti-junta activists on their way to file a criminal charge against the Thai junta leader for staging coup d’état against the 2007 constitution during the first 2014 coup anniversary.
According to Resistant Citizen, an anti-junta activist group, the police and military officers in uniform and plainclothes on Friday at around 3 pm, arrested Sirawit Serithiwat, a student activist from Thammasat University, Pansak Srithep, a pro-democracy activist and the father of a boy killed by the military during the 2010 political violence, and Wannakiet Chusuwan, a pro-democracy activist and taxi driver, key members of Resistant Citizen, at Lat Phrao Bangkok’s Metro Station.
Sirawit and Wannakiet at Lat Phrao Bangkok's Metro Station on 22 May 2015
The three were arrested while they were on their way to Bangkok’s Ratchada Criminal Court to file criminal charge under Article 113 of Thailand’s Criminal Code against Gen Prayuth Chan-o-chan, the junta leader and prime minister, and other associates, who were involved in staging the 2014 coup d’état.
At around 4 pm, however, the officers brought them to the court to let them submit the complaint against the coup-maker before bringing them to Phahonyothin Police Station.
On Thursday, Pansak and Wannakiet were briefly detained at Lumpini Police Station after they went to the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok to give an invitation letter to the embassy personnel, inviting the them to observe the planned activity at Ratchada Criminal Court.
Pansak arrested and loaded into a van by the police officers on 22 May 2015
The letter was received by Taishi Akimoto, the First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok.
Natchacha Kongudom, another prominent student activist from Thai Student Center for Democracy (TSCD), was also with the group at the metro station to participate in the planned activity.
Last month, the three, including, Anon Numpa, another member of the group who is a human rights lawyer who volunteers for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), were charged with defying the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 7/2014 for holding a political gathering of more than five people on 14 February. If found guilty the four could be jailed for one year and fined up to 20,000 baht.Read more...
Yesterday in Samui the two men accused of involvement in the April the 10th bombing in the underground car park of the Central Festival shopping mall denied all charges and said that they will fight in the court to clear their names. In the Koh Samui Provincial Court police applied for their first twelve day […]Read more...
A group in Koh Samui are knitting for a good cause and looking for your help. We are a group of “knitters” who are supporting the Sarnelli Orphanage in Northern Thailand by knitting garments for the children. The orphanage has 17 little ones from 6 months to 5 years old and their cold months are […]
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JAKARTA, 22 May 2015 – In the year since the Thai military staged a coup to overthrow the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand has witnessed the entrenchment of authoritarianism and its new leaders have increasingly reneged on their international human rights obligations, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.
“This unelected military government has pursued policies that restrict fundamental freedoms and limit the space for political pluralism,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of parliament in Malaysia. “Such an approach will not promote reconciliation. It will only deepen political polarization and further undermine the rule of law.”
The collective of parliamentarians called on Thai authorities to repeal all laws that violate international human rights norms, reinstate all human rights provisions in the previous constitution, and quickly return Thailand to an elected civilian government. APHR also demanded an end to trials of civilians in military courts, the investigation of allegations of torture, and the investigation of military involvement in forced evictions.
Parliamentarians also expressed concern over the relative silence of other regional governments on Thailand’s regression. They called on the broader international community to take a stronger stand against rights abuses by the Thai junta and to push harder for a return to democracy.
“The free pass the Thai military has received from the international community runs the risk of emboldening other governments in the region to pursue similar anti-democratic and human rights restricting policies,” Santiago said. “Regional and international leaders must press the Thai government to answer for the wide range of allegations of human rights violations levied against it.”
In the past year, the military has demonstrated few signs that it intends to prioritize the protection of basic human rights or return the country to democracy anytime soon, APHR said. It has banned political activity, instituted severe media censorship, detained protesters voicing any opposition, and made moves to consolidate and make permanent the military’s control over politics.
Allegations of torture of detainees while in military custody have been particularly concerning, APHR argued, as has the lack of progress in investigations into killings and disappearances of human rights defenders, including Chai Bunthonglek and Pholachi Rakchongcharoen (a.k.a. Billy).
The decision, announced this week, to further delay planned elections until August 2016 represents yet another concerning sign of the junta’s lack of commitment to transitioning back to democracy, APHR said.
“When the military took power last May, we were promised a speedy return to an elected civilian government,” said Santiago. “One year later, we are still waiting on the junta to fulfill its promise. And in the meantime, we have seen a complete erosion of basic rights protections.”
While the government revoked martial law in early April, APHR argued that its replacement—Article 44 of the interim constitution—is even more problematic. Article 44 gives National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader Prayuth Chan-ocha unilateral authority to pursue any policy and to override the other branches of government. In its order lifting martial law, the NCPO used Article 44 to maintain its prohibition on public gatherings, extend the ability of military courts to try civilians, and provide military officers with sweeping powers to detain individuals without charges.
“The invocation of Article 44 makes the decision to lift martial law essentially meaningless, ” said Walden Bello, a former congressman from the Philippines and current APHR board member. “It gives Prayuth ultimate power and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, which goes against the rule of law and international norms of good governance.”
Since it took power one year ago, the NCPO has also displayed increasing contempt for dissenting voices, APHR warned. Statements by junta leaders have exhibited a lack of faith in the ability of public discussion and consultation to produce positive outcomes. The military has also worked actively to silence opposition voices through arbitrary arrests and detentions and the forced closure of select media outlets.
“What military leaders fail to realize is that dissenting voices strengthen the ability of government to safeguard human rights and act in the interest of the public,” Bello said. “To prioritize silencing those voices over preserving fundamental freedoms is not only shameful, it is counterproductive.”
Parliamentarians noted that the NCPO’s actions have gone against its international obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ASEAN Charter, Article 1 of which states that among the 15 key purposes of the regional grouping is to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“Thailand once served as a model for the region,” Santiago added. “It is sad to see how far it has fallen from this mantle. Within the span of one year, Thailand has moved rapidly toward a disturbingly permanent form of dictatorship that ignores the rights of the majority of its citizens.”
Aum Neko, Sirawit Serithiwat (left) and Kittisan Utsahapradit (right) are leading members of the Dome Front Agora student activist group from Thammasat University. After the coup, Aum fled Thailand, while Sirawit faced charges for protesting against the coup makers.
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(New York, May 22, 2015) – One year after seizing power, Thailand’s military junta has used dictatorial power to systematically repress human rights throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has prosecuted critics of military rule, banned political activity, censored the media, and tried dissidents in unfair military courts.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the date for a new election continues to be pushed back. Earlier this week the Thai government said that it would not keep its commitment to an election in early 2016, saying it would not take place at least until August or September 2016.
“One year since the military coup, Thailand is a political dictatorship with all power in the hands of one man,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The date for elections continues to slide, with no certainty when they will happen. Backsliding on respect for basic rights and democratic reform seems to have no end in sight.”
Sweeping and Unaccountable Military Powers
Unable to find other ways to sideline the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup – on May 22, 2014, the Thai military deposed her, and formed the NCPO under Prayuth. On July 22, the NCPO promulgated an interim constitution that grants the military authorities broad and unchecked powers, including immunity from prosecution for committing rights violations. The interim constitution provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibility and liabilities.”
Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO – such as the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee – are all dominated by military personnel and other junta loyalists, meaning that there are no effective checks and balances on military rule.
On March 31, 2015, nationwide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the interim constitution, which allows Prayuth as the NCPO chairman to issue orders without administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability. As a result, the lifting of martial law brought no improvement in respect for human rights in Thailand. Section 44 states that “where the head of the NCPO is of opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reforms in any field, or to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act that undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs,” the head of the NCPO is empowered to “issue orders, suspend or act as deemed necessary… Such actions are completely legal and constitutional.”
No oversight mechanism exists to review the use of section 44 powers by Prayuth, Human Rights Watch said. He only needs to report his decisions and actions to the National Legislative Assembly and to the prime minister, a position he also holds.
“By replacing the 100-year-old Martial Law Act with legal provisions that are even more repressive, the military junta has effectively tightened its dictatorial rule,” Adams said.
Arbitrary, Secret Detention and Military Courts
The NCPO has summoned at least 751 people to report to the junta in the year since the coup. Most of these were affiliated with former Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts.” Others were politicians, activists, and journalists accused by the military of involvement in anti-coup activities or insulting the monarchy (lese majeste). Under the provisions of martial law, and later section 44 of the interim constitution, the military can secretly detain people without charge or trial. Military personnel have also been empowered to interrogate detainees in military facilities without providing access to their lawyers or ensuring other safeguards against mistreatment. The military prosecuted at least 22 people – six of them for lese majeste – after first summoning and interrogating them.
The NCPO continues to refuse to provide information about people in secret detention, Human Rights Watch said. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military custody. The use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians has also increased, Human Rights Watch said. Three days after seizing power, the NCPO issued its 37th order, which replaced civilian courts with military tribunals for lese majeste offenses, crimes against national security, and sedition. Military courts have tried hundreds of people, mostly political dissidents and those violating NCPO orders, since the coup.
“The Thai junta has done nothing to assure families that those taken into military custody won’t be tortured or mistreated,” said Adams. “Instead the government issues harsh denials and lashes out angrily at journalists and activists who raise questions about torture cases.”
Censorship and Restrictions on Free Expression
Immediately after the coup, the NCPO forced satellite TV channels and community radio stations from all political factions off the air. Some were later allowed to resume broadcasting provided they excluded programs on political issues. The NCPO also ordered print media not to publicize commentaries critical of the military. TV and radio programs were instructed not to invite guests who might give negative comments about the situation in Thailand. In April 2015, Thai authorities suspended the broadcasting of Peace TV and TV 24, two satellite TV stations affiliated with the UDD after accusing them of violating the NCPO’s two announcements that prohibit criticism of the military authorities.
More than 200 websites, including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page, have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security. The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta – such as by showing a three-finger “Hunger Games” movie salute as an act of defiance, putting duct tape over their mouths, reading George Orwell’s novel 1984, or playing the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” in public – have been arrested and sent to be prosecuted in military courts, where they face up to two-year prison terms. On May 19, Bangkok’s Lumpini district police arrested a Red Shirts activist, Anurak Jentawanit, and detained him for 10 hours after they saw him at a restaurant wearing a T-shirt with the quote “ I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” from William Earnest Hensley’s novel Invictus. Police later searched Anurak’s house and confiscated similar T-shirts that were produced to raise funds for political prisoners.
The junta has also prevented and disrupted perceived political discussions and differences in political opinions that it considered a threat to stability and national security. During the past year, military units in Bangkok and other provinces have cancelled at least 30 political events and academic panels. The military has also banned at least 12 seminars and public forums on issues related to land and community rights. At least 22 other public gatherings were blocked by the military.
The NCPO’s announcement no. 7/2014 bans political gatherings of more than five people, subject to a year in prison and a 20,000 baht (approximately US$600) fine. At least 63 individuals have been arrested since the coup for organizing or taking part in public gatherings.
Criticizing the monarchy is a serious criminal offense in Thailand. Persons charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in prison for many months awaiting trial. In most cases, convictions result in harsh sentences. Prayuth gave a policy statement setting out that a top NCPO priority is to prosecute critics of the monarchy. Since the coup, at least 14 new cases have been brought against suspects in the military courts and criminal courts around Thailand.
Military courts have generally imposed harsher sentences in lese majeste cases than had the civilian courts. Penal Code article 112 provides for imprisonment of 3 to 15 years forlese majeste crimes. Previously, civilian courts often sentenced a guilty person to 5 years per count. But since the coup, military courts have often delivered harsher sentences. In the case against a Red Shirts blogger, Thiansutham Suttijitseranee (known as “Yai Daengduad”), the Bangkok Military Court sentenced him to 10 years per count. For his five allegedlese majeste Facebook postings, Thiansutham received 50 years in prison, later reduced to 25 years when he pleaded guilty. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any longer sentence under article 112.
“Governments around the world need to press the military junta to end repression and restore fundamental rights, which are essential for a genuine return to democratic civilian rule,” Adams said.