TLHR Overall Situation in September 2020

Summary

In September 2020, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) documented 52 cases and incidents of human rights violations in central and southern Thailand – Bangkok, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Nontaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Chonburi, and Krabi. These include 2 cases of arbitrary detention, 8 cases of restriction of freedom of expression, 6 cases of restriction of freedom of assembly, 28 cases of court observation and monitoring, and 8 cases of other forms of harassment and intimidation.

In northeastern Thailand, TLHR documented 35 cases and incidents of human rights violations –  Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Maha Sarakham, Nakhon Panom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Roi Et, Sisaket, Sakon Nakorn, Buriram, Udon Thani, Surin, Chaiyaphum, and Kalasin. These include 11 cases of restriction of freedom of assembly, 8 cases of restriction of freedom of expression, 6 cases of court observation and monitoring, and 10 cases of harassment and intimidation and others.

In northern Thailand, TLHR monitored 24 cases and incidents of human rights violations – Prae, Lamphun, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Sawan, Payao, Chiang Mai, and Lampang. These include 6 cases of restriction of freedom of expression, 8 cases of restriction of freedom of assembly, and 10 cases of court observation and monitoring.

 

Human rights situation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic

Ø Government extended the Emergency Decree for another month, after 6 months in effect, and used it to restrict the freedom of assembly.

On 29 Sep 2020, the Royal Gazette announced a nationwide extension of the Emergency Decree (6th time) from 1-31 Oct, which will be the 7th month after its issuance on 26 Mar 2020. The government claimed that the Emergency Decree was still necessary because the Covid-19 situation in the neighboring countries has worsened and that more migrant workers have illegally sneaked into the country without permission leading to higher risks of cluster infection with unknown origin and a wide spread of disease in the country.

Meanwhile, no local infection was present in the country for over 100 consecutive days before one prisoner in a prison was tested positive for Covid-19 in early September 2020 with unidentified source. However, from then until the end of September, there has been no additional local case. The government and the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) still stressed that the extension of the Emergency Decree has nothing to do with politics.

According to TLHR monitoring activities, there have been 4 cases of students and citizens charged with violating the Emergency Decree for their political gatherings in September, including in Lampang, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, and the Harry Potter-theme rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. It was found that since the enactment of the Emergency Decree, the said law was used to prosecute people who joined political rallies, amount to at least 21 cases, involving 73 people, among which 31 were students.

When looking at the situation since the Free Youth rally on 18 Jul 2020, there have been 13 cases and the police have issued a number of warrants summoning rally goers for interrogation as witnesses. This happened in several locations, such as Pitsanulok and Suratthani, although no charges have been pressed. From a rally in Ratchaburi, there was also a high school student in the list of accused people. The police have later postponed the charge hearing to re-investigate the case.

Another observation is that even though Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha had issued a regulation allowing people to exercise their rights to assemble within the scope of rights and liberties in the Constitution and in compliance with the requirements prescribed in the Public Assembly law during the extended period of the Emergency Decree in July, the authorities still continued to use the Emergency Decree to accuse rally attendants in conjunction with the Public Assembly Act B.E. 2015 for activities from August onwards.

Overall human rights situation

  • Ongoing demonstrations overthrowing the government – calling for the royal reform amidst harassment and restriction.

The Demonstration on September 19-20 at Sanam Luang

Protests by students and citizens calling for democracy continued to be in full force in the past month. Throughout September, there have been at least 45 demonstrations in various provinces all over the country. A big rally was organized by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration in the area of Thammasat University and Sanam Luang on 19-20 Sep. The speeches and demands still heavily focused on monarchy issues, placing special emphasis on the 10-point proposals for the democratic reform of the monarchy. Moreover, a new Khana Ratsadon’s plaque 2020 containing statements affirming the people’s power has also been installed on the ground of Sanam Luang, which triggered similar activities in other provinces. Organizing rallies still constantly faced various forms of restriction, including:

  • Thammasat University issued a letter prohibiting the use of its area for gatherings, claiming it had not taken steps according to the announcement on the guidelines for allowing gatherings on campuses. Later, the gates were ordered closed on the rally dates.
  • An attempt to forbid the use of Sanam Luang as a rally venue on ground of a historic site.
  • The police set up several checkpoints restricting the traffic on the night of 18 Sep to check on people travelling from other provinces.
  • Various obstacles were placed including amplifier vehicles, stage installing vehicles, or mobile toilets, which hindered rally organizers to provide facilities and conveniences to participants.
  • The police force was dispatched to search the residences of a group of Thammasat students before the rally on 19 Sep. The officers seized the books containing speeches about the monarchy reform from the rally on 10 Aug 2020, which had been prepared for distribution at the upcoming event. In addition, Mr Chanin Wongsri, a Thammasat student, was supposedly taken to file a daily report at Klong Luang Police Station but instead was informed of a charge under section 116 for his involvement in the rally on 10 Aug 2020.

Moreover, the state officers tracked activists, students, and villagers in different provinces to inquire about their plan to attend the rally. For those who wished to join the activity, for example, members of the Assembly of the Poor in Sa Kaew, Buriram, Sisaket, and Chumpon, high school students in Krabi, members of the Kong Kang student group in Burapha University, and red-shirt people in Payao, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, the officers also asked to accompany them to Bangkok for “protection”.

The police officers also conducted a search of the residence belonging to Dao Din group in Khon Kaen and impounded banners with monarchy-related texts, which the students had prepared to bring to the rally. Following the Free Youth rally, TLHR has received reports of at least 134 students and citizens who have been followed by the police officers to their house or private space.

Police Officers Confiscated the Banner related to the Monarchy at Pai Dao din’s Residence (Courtesy of Prachatai)

After the rally on 19-20 Sep, the police said in a press conference that they had compiled evidences to prosecute the organizers and supporters of this rally. At the same time, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society has accused people who shared contents online insulting the monarchy during 19-20 Sep too, one of which was Mr Parit Chiwarak, a student leader.

The increasingly broadening situation involving speeches and expressions about the monarch has also prompted the conservative groups to retaliate with stronger restrictions and legal actions. These included Mr Sontiya Sawasdee, former Palang Pracharath Party MP, who accused Mr Parit Chiwarak, a student leader, with offences under the Computer-related Crimes Act and Ms Inthira Charoenpura, an actor who supported the students’ rallies, Dr Tul Sitthisomwong who accused three 19 Sep rally leaders with offences under section112, Thai Pakdee Group who accused Mr Anon Nampa and Voice TV company for broadcasting the speeches from the rally on 19-20 Sep claiming its content had insulted the monarchy. In addition, the Coordination Centre for Vocational Students and People Protecting the Institution has gathered in front of the Progressive Movement Party HQ to demand Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to stop criticizing the monarchy.

At the same time, after Nuttaporn Toprayoon had filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court asking it to determine whether the students’ rallies and speeches in August were regarded as an use of liberty to overthrow the democratic regime with the monarch at the head of state under Section 49 of the 2017 Constitution, on 16 Sep 2020 the Constitutional Court accepted the complaint against the three leaders of the 10 Aug 2020 rally and sent the copy of the complaint to the three offenders, so that they could submit statement of clarification.

  • Political expressions in schools continued, while teachers and police tried to intervene.

The Student Protest on September 25 at Bodindecha School

In September, the expressions and gatherings by students in many schools still went on tackling both on political issues as well as authoritarianism in academic institutions. At the same time, they faced restrictions by schools, which included announcing a holiday on the day of rally (Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School on 25 Sep 2020 and Triam Udom Suksa Pattanakarn School on 1 Oct 2020) citing students’ safety and avoiding likely problems. As a result of the school’s closing, the students had to relocate their activities to the front of the school, which was considered outside of the school ground.

Students’ gatherings were also intervened and impeded by the school organizing urgent activities. Udonpittayanukoon School, for example, announced the mosquito fumigation activity on the same day as the students’ activities only 5 minutes in advance, which led to physical injuries for some students.

In Lamphun, it was reported that two 12 grade students, who had gone up on the stage at the rally in Muang District on 14 Sep 2020, were summoned by the teachers who said that police officers had inquired the school about them, as their names were on the soldiers’ surveillance list. Police officers also asked about the details of the students’ activities.

  • State authorities’ surveillance and prosecution of people expressing opinions about the monarchy online.

Inquiry Officers brought Mr.Narin to ask for the court permission for temporary detention on September 23

The situation of the state authorities tracking the people who share or post opinions about the monarchy on the internet persisted. On 21 Sep 2020, officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) armed with a warrant made an arrest of Mr Narin (alias), a 30-year-old man, with charges under section 14 (2), (3), (5) of the Computer-related Crimes Act for serving as an admin of the Facebook page “GuKult”, which shares satirical contents about the monarchy.

In this time, the officers searched Narin’s house and confiscated in total 7 items of computers and telephones before bringing him to the TCSD office to inform him of his charges of the Computer-related Crimes Act, in total of 4 acts. He was detained at the Thung Song Hong Police Station for two nights before the inquiry officer took him to the Criminal Court to seek detention. The court later released him on bail of 100,000 Baht.

Moreover, in September TLHR has also received reports of 11 cases in which people have posted or shared contents about the monarchy and got a home visit by authorities. Some cases merely concerned a sharing of news article about the reinstatement of titles to the Royal Noble Consort Sineenart, which was also official news published in the Royal Gazette. An example is a case of Shettha Klingdee, a Mahasarakham University student, whose family was visited by state officers of unknown agency on 5 Sep. The authorities said that he had shared content insulting the monarchy, even though it was only the news about the reinstatement of the Consort’s titles without attaching any personal opinions. The authorities also threatened him to stop talking about the monarchy. If not, they would take a legal action against him.

Another case involved a 33-year-old man in Bangkok. On 28 Sep 2020, two plainclothes officers came to his house bringing a screenshot of his Facebook account, a sharing of post from “Somsak Jeamteerasakul” talking about the reinstatement of the Royal Noble Consort’s titles with solely the text “The Advisor Concludes”. The officers inquired about his personal background and told him that he had “insulted the monarchy”. They then asked him to sign an agreement admitting that he had shared the post and would not do it again. He signed the document with a police officer as witness. The officers also requested that he took down the said post.

Another instance was a first-year student of a university in Bangkok. On 22 Sep, 4-5 police officers went to her home and told her family that she had shared one text about the monarchy from the Facebook account “Pavin Chachavalpongpun”, an exile scholar and asked the family to sign an agreement on her behalf that she would not commit “such offence” again and stop talking about the monarchy. The officers also contacted the student requesting her to close her Facebook account while threatened that they would sue her with section 112, should she continue.

The situation of people expressing opinions about the monarchy on the internet as mentioned above has occurred constantly since mid-2019 and become intensified following the Free Youth rallies in July 2020 onwards.

Key cases updates

  • The Criminal Court dismissed Thai Federation case in Chiang Mai. Plaintiff’s evidences failed to prove the defendant’s guilt.

On 16 Sep 2020, the Criminal Court has dismissed the case of three defendants, Mr Dansak, Mrs Amporn (alias), and Mr Panu, who wore a black t-shirt to Central Festival shopping mall in Chiang Mai on 5 Dec 2020 according to an instruction by the Thai Federation Group, containing offences under section 116 and 209 of the Criminal Code.

The Court did not find that the three defendants had organized shows, distributed flyers, or disseminated federalist ideas and committed an act resembling a member of the said group. Moreover, the Plaintiff’s witness statement did not verify their membership or any contacts with the Thai Federation leaders. Neither were there evidences showing that the three people had contacted or known each other before. Therefore, it is not established that the three persons were members of the group. The evidences and witnesses thus failed to prove that the three defendants had committed an act of being a member of a secret unlawful society. As for the sedition charge, even though the three defendants were wearing a black t-shirt on the date of incidence and admitted that they had listened to the Thai Federation shows, they were not involved in organizing them, mobilizing people in the way that caused disturbance or disorder in the country, and inciting violence. The Plaintiff’s evidences, thus, failed to prove that the three defendants had committed the offences as alleged.

  • Arnon-Panupong were detained for 5 days after the Court revoked bail, before the police withdrew the detention request.

Arnon and Mike after the release on September 7

On 3 Sep 2020, the Criminal Court held a hearing for the inquiry officer of Samran Rat Police Station, who had requested the Court to revoke the Arnon Nampa and Panupong ‘Mike’ Jadnok’s bail in the #FreeYouth rally case. The officer claimed that the duo had violated the bail conditions, which required that they not commit acts similar to the case.

After deliberating the claim in Panupong’s case, when taking into consideration the age, occupation, and nature of the alleged acts for the revocation of the bail, the Court did not find any damages to the investigation or proceeding. It was appropriate to give the offender one more chance under the conditions that the bail was increased to 200,000 Baht and the offender was required to report himself to the Court every 15 days. As for Arnon’s case, the Court found that the offender had committed acts similar to the allegation and therefore ordered to revoke the bail.

After the Court’s order, Arnon decided to not submit a new request for bail, while Panupong decided to reject the new bail conditions. As a result, both of them were transferred to be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison. On 7 Sep 2020, the 5th day of their detention, the Criminal Court ordered their release because the inquiry officer had submitted a request to withhold the detention request, reasoning that the investigation had been adequately conducted and there was no need to further detain the two offenders at this stage. 

  • Gen Prayuth’s daughters assigned a lawyer to accuse a big number of internet users for libel.

People who received summon warrants from defaming Gen. Prayuth’s daughters on September 14

On 2 Sep 2020, Mr Apiwat Kantong, a member of the committee assisting the prime minister under the Office of the Prime Minister, as a lawyer assigned by Ms Thanya and Ms Nittha Chan-ocha, daughters of Gen Prayuth, the prime minister, filed a complaint with the inquiry officer at Nang Loeng Police Station to sue people who posted false news about the twin daughters on the internet leading to damages on their reputation. Earlier, the hashtag #findPrayuthsDaughters became an online trend to find out what the prime minister’s daughters were doing and what their personal background was. Later, the inquiry officer issued warrants to summon several people with charges under the defamation law and the Computer-related Crimes Act.

On 14 Sep 2020, 7 people who received the summon warrants came to hear their charges. The police only informed them of charges of defamation by advertisement, and not of the Computer-related Crimes Act as mentioned in the warrants. Later, on 17 Sep 2020 another person received a warrant and came to hear his charges in the same case. TLHR has monitored in total 8 people who have been accused in this case already.