On 31 March 2019, two activists, Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anurak Jeantawanich (also known as “Ford Red Path”) organised an activity at Ratchaprasong Intersection to collect signatures for a petition calling for the removal of the Election Commission. The petition came after Thailand’s general election on 24 March 2019 was beset with broad public concerns about transparency and fairness when it came to electoral process and the counting of ballots.
At approximately 1.15 AM on 1 April 2019, Ekachai saw an unknown man whose face was concealed kick the left-hand side blind-spot mirror of his car, which was parked outside his home. The unknown perpetrator poured oil over the car’s front window before setting the car on fire. Damage to the interior of the car is unlikely to be repairable. Also destroyed were documented related to the petition calling for the removal of the Election Commission, evidence confirming the support of approximately 300 people who had expressed interest in the petition, and a speaker used in the activity at Ratchaprasong Intersection, all of which had been in the car.
Meanwhile, at approximately 9.45 PM on 31 March 2019, Anurak Jeantawanich was attacked by two men at his home, with the violence inflicting bloody cuts to his arms. Both men had once again covered their faces and were dressed in black. Anurak could not identify any prior incidents of conflict that might identify the perpetrators. (For more information on intimidations of Ekachai Hongkangwan, see here).
Though both Ekachai and Anurak filed complaints to police officials in the hopes that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights notes that these attacks are not the first cases activists being intimidated which have involved injury to the body or damages to property.
This is particularly true in the case of Ekachai, who has been active in demanding greater transparency when it comes to the country’s governance under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He has campaigned for investigations into Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s possession of more than 25 luxury watches. He has also organised activities in opposition to the army chief’s order to play the song “Nak Paen Din” over army radio stations, calling for an end to the use of the song on the basis that it could incite conflict and stir resentment between groups who hold differing political views. Before the general election, Ekachai also continually demanded that elections be held. As a consequence, Ekachai has been subject to eight criminal trials, has been attacked six times and has had his property destroyed twice. The attacks have escalated in aggressiveness, even while the motives remain unclear.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is an organisation that provides legal assistance and collects information on individuals who have been adversely effected by the exercise of their political rights after the 2014 coup. We are extremely worried by the incidents of violence against both Ekachai and Anurak, which occurred in the immediate aftermath of their organisation of the activity to collect signatures in support of the Electoral Commission’s removal. Such an activity is permissible under Section 235 of the 2017 Constitution of Thailand, and its legitimacy is further affirmed by Sections 34 and 44 of the 2017 Constitution on rights to participate in the investigation, checking and criticism of government officials. Those rights are also protected under Article 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The intimidation and use of violence against both Ekachai and Anurak has been compounded by slowness on the part of authorities in both investigating the perpetrators and in implementing measures to ensure the safety of people who campaign or call for democratic governance. These events not only show the Thai state’s defective performance of its duty to protect those who exercise their rights and freedom of expression. They also make visible the authorities’ lack of patience and respect for the rights to life and bodies of individuals who exercise their rights and freedom of expression, as well as groups who gather peacefully and unarmed.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights condemns these cases of intimidation and violence against Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anurak Jeantawanich, and calls for both the state and ordinary people to conduct themselves with respect for human dignity indiscriminately. Accordingly:
1. We demand that the relevant authorities involved in the justice process, especially the police, and the National Human Rights Commission co-operate to find out the truth behind these incidents of intimidation. The perpetrators who used violence against Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anurak Jeantawanich, and in prior like incidents, should be investigated and subject to criminal charges expediently, impartially and transparently.
2. We demand that the Thai state protects and defends the rights and freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly exercised by Ekachai Hongkangwan and Anurak Jeantawanich, which are affirmed in the 2017 Constitution of Thailand.
3. We call upon ordinary people to exercise tolerance towards peaceful expression and assembly, whether exercised in the campaign for investigations into the Election Commission or in demands for investigations into state corruption under the NCPO. Such campaigns are an expression of rights affirmed in the Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.