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picture from Liberal Assembly Chiang Mai University for Democracy fanpage

On 8 July 2016, police officials from the Chiang Mai Provincial Police had approached a girlfriend of a data collection officer of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) at late night, suspecting him of having been involved with the distribution of information against the Draft Constitution. The police pressed her to contact him and tell him to meet the officials immediately. The officials claimed they wanted to meet in person with the TLHR staff member to verify if he had been involved with spreading the information against the Draft Constitution or not. The TLHR staff negotiated with the police on the phone to let his girlfriend go home and he promised to meet the officials the next day.

On 8 July 2016, around 20.00, Mr. Noppon Archamas, a Chiang-Mai-based data collection officer of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), returned to his dormitory and learned that some officials came  for him. Around 15.00, there were three uniformed military officials came to his dorm to look for him and late afternoon the same day, around 17.00, some plain-clothed police officials also came for him there.  The officials kept asking the owner and housekeeper of the dormitory if Mr. Noppon stayed there and asked to search his room, but the owner denied them the entry, so they had failed to look for him in the room.

Around 23.00, Noppon’s girlfriend returned to her residence. While she was pulling over her vehicle, three police officials from the Chiang Mai Provincial Police appeared to identify themselves and asked if she knew Mr. Noppon and of his whereabouts. She was asked by police to take them to meet him. Asking why they wanted to meet Noppon so late at night, the officials told her that they had been instructed to follow him since morning but they could not get a hold of him and wanted to meet him today. She then negotiated with police to move away from her residence for more discussion at a temple where she recalled it has a CCTV installed. The police asked to ride with her without letting she drive by herself. Then, upon police’s instruction, she had to make a phone call to ask Noppon to come out and meet with them. The police claimed that they needed to verify his identity and some facts.

The TLHR, however, found such an incident a harassment against human rights worker and the police had no power to summon an individual to meet at night time. Therefore, Noppon negotiated that the police let his girlfriend return to her home and he would go to meet with the police as wanted on the next day. The appointment was set for them to meet the following morning at a coffee shop in the city of Chiang Mai.

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The information against the Draft Constitution (middle)

The next day on 9 July 2016, at 10.00am, Mr. Noppon, accompanied by the TLHR representatives from Bangkok, met with Pol Col Pakorn Phathong, Investigation Superintendent, Pol Lt Col Piyapon Thamwat, Deputy Superintendent, the Chiang Mai Provincial Police, along with three other police officials, and Lt Col Pitsanupong Jaiput, Acting Intelligence Chief Officer of the 33rd Military Circle and two other military officials. The police wanted to know if Noppon had been involved with distributing the document presenting arguments against the Draft Constitution during the forum of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) “Getting to Know the Draft Constitution for a Proper Referendum” held at Chiang Mai University on 4 July 2016 or not.  They also asked for his personal information and his connection with the Prachatai news outlet.  They claimed to have been informed that Mr. Noppon had been involved with the alleged incident all along and insisted that their surveillance had been carried out within the framework of law.

The TLHR explained to them that Mr. Noppon is the TLHR’s data collection officer and full-time staff. He does not involve neither with the production nor the distribution of the document. He did not even participate in the CDC-organized forum on the draft constitution. Nevertheless, the police did not make it clear as to why they casted suspicion on Mr. Noppon, but simply explained that they had to carry this out due to the instructions received from their superior officials.

During the conversation, one of the military officers, Lt Col Pitsanupong Jaiput, who had been sitting and listening, abruptly made a leave. The police made a phone call to him and learned from him later that he already left since he had found nothing of interest to him anymore. Before the conclusion of the conversation, the police informed Noppon that they might ask to meet him again in the future.

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“The incident is an intimidation to the work of the TLHR. If the officials only wanted to meet and to get any information from our staff, they could have contacted him or TLHR through other means and could have done it during daytime. It was not necessary to approach Mr. Noppon’s girlfriend at nighttime and demanded that she drew him out to meet them immediately”, said Ms. Yaowalak Anuphan, the Head of the Thailand Lawyers for Human Rights. “If the authorities have any evidence which led to such suspicion against our staff, they should have put it out clearly and done it upfront with the human rights defenders. There is no need to perpetuate this climate of fear during the time people should be free to exercise their rights and freedom in the upcoming constitution referendum”, Ms. Yaowalak added.