In July 2020, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) documented 90 cases and incidents of human rights violations in central and southern Thailand – Bangkok, Chonburi, Patumthani, Ayutthaya, Samutprakan, Kanchanaburi, Chantaburi, Sakaew, Chachoengsao, Supanburi, Nontaburi, Nakorn Pathom, Prachuap Kiri Khan and related to Phang-nga and Songkhla. These include 1 case of arbitrary detention, 4 cases of restriction of freedom of expression, 34 cases of restriction of freedom of assembly, 29 cases of court observation and monitoring, and 22 cases of harassment and intimidation and others.
In northeastern Thailand, TLHR documented 25 cases and incidents of human rights violations – Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Maha Sarakham, Udonthani, Nakhon Ratchasima, Bueng Kan, Nongkhai, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Loei, Buriram, Amnat Charoen, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Roi Et, and Mukdahan. These include 1 case of arbitrary detention, 12 cases of restriction of freedom of assembly, 1 case of restriction of freedom of expression, 2 cases of court observation and monitoring, and 9 cases of harassment and intimidation and others.
In northern Thailand, TLHR monitored 17 cases and incidents of human rights violations – Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Lampang, Prae, Lamphun, Pitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan, and Uttaradit. These include 9 cases of arbitrary detention, 4 cases of court observation and monitoring, and 4 cases of harassment and intimidation and others.
Overall Human Rights situation
- Government extended the Emergency Decree for another month, after 3 months in effect, and used it to restrict the freedom of assembly
On 30 July 2020, the Royal Gazette website announced a nationwide extension of the Emergency Decree from 1-31 August 2020, which was the fourth time it has been extended since its issue on 26 March 2020. However, this time, additional requirements have been added, stating that “Any gatherings, group activities, or public assembly are only allowed under the scope of rights and liberties prescribed by the Constitution and laws, and shall be in accordance with the provisions of the law on public assembly. Furthermore, the party responsible for organizing such activity shall ensure the compliance with the disease control measures”. As a result, the police have once again taken up the Public Assembly Act to control political gatherings instead of the Emergency Decree.
During May-July, TLHR found that state authorities have charged at least 33 political activists in 13 cases for offences related to the Emergency Decree involving gatherings deemed prone to disease transmission. In July alone, these charges were used on 6 cases of political gatherings by students and citizens, including the showing of banners expelling Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha during his field trip in Rayong on 15 July 2020, a rally by Free Youth group on 18 July 2020, a rally in front of the army headquarter on 20 July 2020, and rallies in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Chiang Rai.
- Widespread demonstrations demanding parliament dissolution and a new constitution amidst harassment by the state
On 18 Jul 2020, the Free Youth group organized a rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok proposing three demands to the government, including dissolution of the parliament, drafting of a new constitution, and stopping all forms of harassment of the citizens by the state.
Following the said demonstration, a number of flash mobs occurred successively to support the three demands. By the end of July, there were at least 75 activities held in 44 provinces, among which 11 took place on campuses. A big number of organizers were school and college students, who showed creativity and diversity in their approach, for instance, using cartoon characters or pop culture to convey political messages, using languages containing multiple possible interpretation, and talking openly about the monarchy.
At the same time, the organizers and participants of the abovementioned activities reported being monitored, harassed, and censored by the state authorities on several occasions. 5 activities were cancelled, mainly due to pressure from schools or government. At least 76 activists related to the activities experienced some form of harassment by the police, such as getting visits at home or academic institution, being forced to the police station for inquiry, approaching parents, inquiring about activities and personal information, prohibiting activities using threats, or being mistaken for an organizer for merely sharing posts about the rally.
Each activity faced different forms of restriction, leading to a number of obstacles and limitations, for example, prohibition by the academic institution, change of location due to a sudden announcement of another overlapping event, ID card check, taking pictures of specific individuals, not turning on the lights during the event, pressure on the owner or the people renting amplifier, surveillance of organizers or participants after the activity, as well as prosecution for beaching the Emergency Decree.
- Police arrested two people showing banners expelling Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha during his field trip in Rayong before issuing a summon warrant to inform them of the charges.
(Courtesy of Kaengnews)
On 15 Jul 2020 during Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s field trip to Rayong to show moral support to the locals following infested Egyptian soldiers’ presence, Mr. Panupong Jaadnok and Mr. Natchanon Payakkapan, leaders of the Eastern Youth for Democracy, were holding signs containing texts criticizing the performance of the government and expelling the prime minister in front of D Varee Diva Central Hotel. The authorities then seized and removed the two activists from the scene and later released them. As they were not informed of the charges, they went to the police station to report an improper conduct by the police officers in charge. Consequently, the Rayong Police Station issued a summon warrant and pressed 5 charges against them for violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act, obstructing the authorities, disobeying the authorities’ orders, and flee during detention.
- Person wearing shirt with text “We have lost faith in the monarchy’ on it was detained for 14 days at Khon Kaen Psychiatric Hospital
A Facebook user named “Tiwagorn Withiton“, a citizen of Khon Kaen province, posted a picture of himself wearing a shirt reading “We have lost faith in the monarchy” on Facebook on 9 July 20202, as well as explaining the reason of the loss of faith. At least 6 police officers arrested Tiwagorn and brought him to Khon Kaen Rajanakarin Psychiatric Hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Though this was done against his consent, he did not resist. The police also conducted a search and confiscated 11 communication devices, without a clear evidence whether they were equipped with a search warrant or not. Tiwagorn’s 75-year-old mother said that a senior police officer and a psychiatrist had previously summoned her to ask for her opinion about the possibility of taking her son in for treatment and told her that if left untreated, he would get worse. So, she gave them a permission.
This case triggered critics on arbitrary detention and the political use of the Mental Health Act B.E. 2551, as Tiwagorn did not have any psychiatric symptoms and he was mentally sound up until the incident. After #SaveTiwagorn became an online trend, the hospital did not allow any visits during his detention and police in uniform and plain clothes were guarding the hospital area throughout the day.
On 21 July 2020, Mr. Jatupat Boonpattararaksa submitted a request to the Khon Kaen Provincial Court to release Tiwagorn from an unlawful detention according to the section 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code. On 22 July 2020, the court decided to reject the request because Jatupat, being only Tiwagorn’s Facebook friend and having only met him once in real life, was inadequately related to the detainee. On the evening of the same day, it was reported that Tiwagorn was freed from the hospital and picked up by his family, though the director of the psychiatric hospital refused to give any information about it. The total duration of Tiwagorn’s detention at the hospital was 14 days. Tiwagorn later revealed that psychiatrist did not identify any psychiatric illnesses.
- Intensive state surveillance of people expressing opinions on the monarchy
The situation, in which state officials monitored people sharing or posting opinions about the monarchy on the internet, was ongoing. In July, TLHR received 7 such cases. Police officers in various areas have visited people’s houses, summoned them to the police station, warned them not to express opinions, and forced them to sign an agreement never to express critics against the monarchy again or they would face prosecution.
One example was the case of Mr. Kriangkrai Singhon, a citizen of Loei province, who posted a picture of Mr. Tiwagorn wearing the “We have lost faith in the monarchy” shirt on 14 Jul 2020 and was “invited” by police in plain clothes to be a witness at Chiang Khan Police Station, claiming that they had received a report of his anti-royalist Facebook post. Later, the inquiry officer asked him to sign a daily report without informing charges, explaining that he would need to forward the texts to the palace for consideration first.
Another case was that of a 22-year-old master-degree student at an academic institution in Bangkok, who was visited by police in plain clothes at his house on 20 Jul 2020 after having shared news articles about Tiwagorn Withiton’s arrest and about the cost of royal commemoration gates by Prachatai. He was made to sign a document agreeing to not post anything else related to the monarchy.
Lastly, there was a case of a 16-year-old high school student in Suratthani province, who was summoned by police officers in plain clothes to the village chief’s house for inquiry and was forced to sign an agreement to not share Facebook posts related to the monarchy and the democracy movement.
Key cases updates
On 21 Jul 2020, Phra Khanong Provincial Court issued a ruling on the case involving the tearing up of referendum cards by 3 activists confirming the decision of the Appeal Court, which said that the act committed by the three defendants was considered an offence related to causing disorder at the referendum area according to section 60 (9) of the Referendum Act B.E. 2559. The defendants each received a 6-month imprisonment sentence and fine of 6,000 Baht. As three of them had been cooperative, the sentence was reduced by one-third to imprisonment for 4 months and fine of 4,000 Baht each, with 1-year suspension.
The case had occurred on the day of the referendum for the draft constitution on 7 Aug 2019. Mr. Piyarat travelled to vote at a station in Bangna District and tore up the referendum card to show that he did not accept the illegitimate referendum under NCPO’s tight censorship. In addition, Mr. Songtham and Mr. Jirawat, who recorded the video clip of the act, also faced prosecution.
- Court acquitted Mr. Sombat Bunngam-anong in a case involving posting anti-coup content after 6 years
On 30 July 2020, the court read the verdict for the case of Mr. Sombat Bunngam-anong, a political activist who was charged with section 116 and the Computer-related Crimes Act for posting content opposing the 2014 coup and encouraging people to adopt the three-finger salute. This case was first brought to Bangkok Military Court before transferred to a civilian court for further investigation. In total, this case lasted 6 years.
The Criminal Court decided to acquit the defendant because the posts were merely mockery and an honest critic and were not deemed likely to cause disorder in the country or invite breaches of laws. Thus, the plaintiff’s evidences were not adequately convincing to prove that the defendant was guilty as alleged.
- Court ordered fine in the two cases involving failure to report gatherings (case of playing songs in front of the army HQ and of pantomime performance)
On 29 Jul 2020, the Dusit District Court read the Appeal Court verdict of the case involving two activists, Mr. Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Mr. Chokchai Paiboonratchata, who were prosecuted for not reporting about the gathering according to the Public Assembly Act B.E. 2558. The two men played the song “Prathet Ku Mee” and organized activities in front of the Army Headquarter on 20 Feb 2020 to oppose the song “Nak Phandin”. The Appeal Court confirmed the decision of the Court of First Instance, which was 2,000 Baht fine each, because it considered the said activity a public gathering.
On the same day, the Dusit District Court also read the Appeal Court ruling of the case of Mrs. Payao Akhad or “Nong Kade’s Mother”, who performed a pantomime demanding justice for her daughter at the Democracy Monument on 10 Dec 2018. The Appeal Court confirmed the ruling of a 1,000 Baht fine for not reporting about the activity because it was considered a public gathering and the defendant held the status of someone who wished to organize such events.