1. The overall human rights situation
- Government extends the Emergency Decree for another month amidst opposition
On 26 May 2020, the cabinet approved the agenda to extend the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, B.E. 2548 (2005) for another month, from 1 to 30 June 2020. The Decree has been in effect since 3 April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The cabinet stated that the extension was necessary in part because it facilitates the need of cross-ministry authorization and the integration of several legislations. The extension was approved amidst the opposition of civil society and the public. The public has expressed concerns about the trends of the enforcement of the decree to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and advocated for the revocation of the law, seeing that other existing charters are sufficient to respond to the pandemic. The government also maintains the 11 pm – 3 am curfew. Many are still being charged for violating the curfew and for gathering during the pandemic under the Emergency Decree. According to the Court of Justice, between 1 and 15 May 2020, 12,116 individuals were charged with violation of provisions under the Emergency Decree.
Under the Emergency Decree, authorities have been reported to progress plans without public participation. This includes the razing of Hua Lampong market during the curfew by the municipal officers, the public hearing of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Chana district, Songkhla province, by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), and the plan to build wave barriers at Muang Ngam beach in Singhanakhon district, Songkhla province, which faced local opposition.
In May, there were also reports of arrests and prosecutions of at least two activists under provisions of the Emergency Decree for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression. On 14 May 2020, Mr. Anurak Jeantawanich aka Ford, political activist, was arrested for organizing an event to mark the anniversary of the death of Red Shirt security advisor Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol. Anurak was arrested and later detained at Lumpini police station after the event concluded. The police charged him with a violation of the Emergency Decree for allegedly gathering. The offense carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of 40,000 Thai Baht (approx. USD 1,290) or both. Anurak was released with a 30,000 Thai Baht (approx. USD 970) bail. On 22 May 2020, authorities arrested Anurak and Dr. Tosaporn Serirak, former member of parliament of Pheu Thai party, after they held an event to mark the sixth anniversary of the May 2014 coup in front of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. The pair were charged with breach of the Emergency Decree at Lumpini police station, and later released with a 30,000 Thai Baht (approx. USD 970) bail
Police authorities also used the Emergency Decree to intimidate activists and individuals who exercised the right to freedom of expression in the past month, as follows:
- The Popular Student Network for Democracy organized an event to mark the sixth anniversary of the 22 May 2014 coup on 22 May 2020 at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Police officers prohibited them from displaying the sign “2020 dictatorship rules the town” claiming that the gathering violates provisions of the Emergency Decree. The police later charged the organizers of driving without a license and impeding the traffic.
- On 24 May 2020, villagers planned to gather and protest against the plan to build wave barriers at Muang Ngam beach in Singhanakhon district, Songkhla province in southern Thailand. After the villagers notified the authorities at Maung Ngam police station, they received a letter of disapproval which cited the Emergency Decree. The authorities also put up signs prohibiting any activities or gatherings at the beach.
- Members of Kon Rak Baan Kerd group, a network that protested against the gold mining in Loei province, organized an event to mark the sixth anniversary of “the day of illegal ore transfer” on 15 May 2020. The village head informed them that the mayor of Wang Saphung district requested that the event does not proceed. The mayor claimed that the planned event expected a gathering of a number of villagers, which might result in an outbreak of COVID-19. The villagers insisted on carrying out the event as they have had every year.
- About 20 members of Rak Baan Haeng group, a local network that protested against a mining proposal in Ngaw district, Lampang province, gathered and read a statement in support of the revocation of the Emergency Decree on 28 May 2020. Later, police officers visited the village and met with Mrs. Sommai, the representative of the group who read the statement. The authorities questioned her about the details of the statement and claimed that “it is a clip that the higher-ups asked us to examine.” They further insisted with the villagers that any activity in relation to the mining could be organized so long as nothing in relation to the Emergency Decree is planned.
- Witchhunt and police interrogation intensified following criticisms of the monarchy in the Royalist Marketplace
A Facebook group “Royalist Marketplace” was created on 16 April 2020 by Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor in exile following the May 2014 coup. The group quickly became a space where Internet users voiced criticisms of the monarchy. Throughout the first month of active use, more than 460,000 users joined.
Between the middle to the end of May 2020, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights found reports of surveillance of at least 25 Internet users who expressed criticisms of the monarchy. Many among the 25 were “witch-hunted” from their comments in the Royalist Marketplace, and the rest are from their personal handle. The accusers in these cases are members of several Facebook groups including “The Mettad,” “Aung Aie Sue Tue Eiw Gia v10,” and “Beggar party.”
Members of these pages screen-captured posts and comments of Internet users and shared them on their own page. In some cases, personal information was included in these publications, including full name, workplace and office address. These posts are used to rally other members to attack the post originators or pressure their office of educational institutes. Post originators have faced impacts on their daily life, some amounting to termination at work and fear for their life. Some of this information was also used to file charges against them at local police stations. The allegation sheets were shared on the Internet and forwarded to post originators to create fear. There are unclear reports of the police’s response to these requests.
Further, there were reports of authorities visiting the residence of at least six Internet users who voiced criticisms of the monarchy online. Individuals were brought to be interrogated at the police station without an arrest warrant or a summons. Police questioned their personal information, examined their electronic devices, ordered them to delete the posts and forced them to sign an MOU stating that they would no longer express any opinions on the topic unless they face prosecution. Three of these six cases were reported in Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani and Kalasin provinces. The rest were reported by Andrew McGregor Marshall, a former reporter who often shared stories about the Thai monarchy.
- Move Forward party and Progressive movement still a target of prosecutions
In May, the government continues to instrumentalize the law to target political opponents. In particular, members of the now-defunct Future Forward party which later joined Move Forward party and Progressive movement have been charged in two cases. On 19 May 2020, Ms. Pareena Kraikupt, member of parliament from Ratchaburi province of Palang Pracharath party, filed allegations against Mr. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Mr. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and Ms. Pannika Wanich at Potharam police station, Ratchaburi province. She accused the three of violating a computer-related offense under the Computer Crime Act, for allegedly importing false information onto the Progressive movement Facebook page. The alleged post claimed the similarities between PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha and the National Peace Keeping Council – NPKC B.E. 2534 (1991).
Mr. Natcha Boonchaiinsawat, spokesperson of Move Forward party, and Mr. Teerajchai Panthumas, party-list member of parliament from Move Forward party, were summoned by Phayao police station. Both were charged with defamation by publications offence against Deputy Agriculture Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow, for the alleged comments they gave on Thamanat’s suitability as an office holder during the parliament’s no-confidence debate on 27 February 2020.
On 10 May 2020, Move Forward party also organized a laser-beam projection “Seeking the truths” at several locations in Bangkok including the Ministry of Defence, to mark the tenth anniversary of the crackdown of protests in May 2010. Military officers also stated in a press interview that they were looking at a prosecution, claiming that the content of the projections in relation to the armed forces is distorted. There have been no reports of a lawsuit as of the end of May.
- Military, police paid house visit to activists and human rights defenders
In May, there were two reports of the authorities paying a visit to student activists and human rights defenders and questioned their personal information. First, authorities visited Bomb (alias), a third-year student at Udon Thani Rajabhak University. Bomb participated in an activity carried out by the Esan Students Assembly, a coalition of six educational institutions in northeastern Thailand, at the end of April 2020. Later in May, two authorities visited Bomb at home. Since Bomb was not up yet, the officers left. On 11 May, three unknown officers visited his house again and requested him to fill a form of personal information, including his full name, affiliation and university, residence in Udon Thani province, and his roommate/s. They further questioned when he planned to return to the university. Later the officers showed the form to him, and asked him to confirm the information and signed it.
Authorities also visited Ms. Katima Leeja, a member of the Lisu ethnic group in Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province, and an indigenous rights activist. The evening of 9 May 2020, a plainclothes military officer visited Katima at her house. The officer questioned her about her personal information and the reasons she works on human rights. Katima assumed that the officer visited because she joined the Lisu community’s movement on the conflict between the Forest officers and the villagers.
2. Key cases updates
- Former Red Shirts leader indicted with sedition and computer-related crime for sharing video clips ousting the NCPO
On 26 May 2020, the prosecutor at the Office of the Attorney-General issued an indictment for the case against Pol Col Sa-ngeam Saranrat, former Red Shirts leader and former advisor to the Secretariat of the Prime Minister under the Yingluck administration. Pol Col Sa-ngeam was charged with sedition-like offence under Article 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crime Act, for allegedly sharing video clips in December 2017 that encouraged the public to oust the National Council for Peace and Order. Pol Col Sa-ngeam was just arrested and charged on 7 April 2020 by an arrest warrant issued by the Criminal Court on 4 March 2020. Pol Col Sa-ngeam denied all allegations at the police investigation and the court. He was released on a 200,000 Thai Baht (approx. USD 6,460) bail. The Criminal Court scheduled a witness examination at 9 am on 27 July 2020.
- Prosecutor indicted ‘Danai,’ artist who reported on lack of airport health checkpoints
On 12 May 2020, the prosecutor at the Office of the Attorney-General issued an indictment for the case against Mr. Danai Ussama at the Criminal Court. Danai was charged with offence under Section 14 (2) of the Computer Crime Act, for allegedly posting on Facebook “Zen Wide” on 16 March 2020. The post claimed that when he travelled from Barcelona, Spain, back to Thailand, authorities failed to conduct health check-ups at Suvarnabhumi airport. The Airport of Thailand claimed that Danai’s alleged post caused reputational harm to the airport. The prosecutor further requested in its indictment to the court that Danai should face heavy penalty for his crime. Danai denied all allegations brought against him and the court will examine witness and evidence at 9 am on 20 July 2020. The case garnered a lot of public attention since it is a prosecution against critics of the government’s anti-COVID measures.
Related news and stories:
The unfolding “witch hunt” after the emergence of “Royalist Marketplace” Facebook group
Court to try artist over claim Suvarnabhumi Airport had no Covid-19 screening
TLHR Overall Situation in April 2020
Artist arrested for posting “Suvarnabhumi Airport has no screening for Covid-19” while in 14-day self-quarantine after his return from Spain