The past June, amidst the extensional use of the Emergency Decree declared by the state in its dubious attempt to contain the spread of the virus, Thailand had seen once again national mass public gatherings hosted nationwide to commemorate the Siamese Revolution. 88 years ago on 24th June, this country underwent a shift in political power lead by the People’s Party, a coalition of civilians and military officers, fostering a transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy in Siam.
It was this month also where society was shaken by the news of Wanchaloem Satsaksit, a political activist in exile in Cambodia, who was abducted arbitrarily at the front of his resident by an unidentified group of people. The incident, in a way, initiated a public conversation on the life and security of political dissidents living in the neighboring countries. Followed after were the rage that drove public political figures, human rights defenders, activists, and concerned citizens to stage the protest in an attempt to campaign to urge the government to promptly followed up on the case of enforced disappearance.
Despite given the right to participate in the political gathering according to the Constitution, several individuals were prosecuted right after the gathering by key main laws such as the Emergency Decree, the Cleanliness and Orderliness Act, and the Land Traffic Act.
Meanwhile, the human rights violation situations on online platforms escalated, partly because of the emergence of the Royalist Marketplace FB’s group where dissidents publicly have been expressing their criticism towards the nation’s core establishment. One key case is the case of Mr. Tiwagorn Withiton who posted a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt that read “We lost faith in the monarchy”. According to TLHR’s documentation, he revealed that he was contacted by several state official units who tried to coax him from wearing a shirt with such a provocative message.
The overall human rights situation
- Government extends the Emergency Decree for another month, a tool to restrict the right to peaceful assembly
On 15 June 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic Management Center proposed an invocation of curfews under the Emergency Decree following the decrease in COVID-19 infections.
On 30 June 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 31 July 2020, citing the integration of government units to counter the pandemic. The extension happened amid no new domestic infections in more than 30 days and opposition from civil society which branded the Emergency Decree as the government’s tool to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
In May and June, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights documented cases that authorities charged at least 23 individuals with illegally gathering in violation of provisions under the Emergency Decree. Individuals charged include pro-democracy students, non-profit organizer workers, and individuals who engaged in political activism. Police also cited provisions of the Emergency Decree to bar organizers from carrying out an activity in at least four cases. Pro-democracy activists and students also faced threats from authorities not to exercise their right to freedom of expression in the political context.
On 21 June 2020, police at Mae Rim police station charged 74 villagers in Rim Nuea sub-district, Mae Rim district, northern province, Chiang Mai, with provisions of the Emergency Decree. The villagers were accused of breaching the Decree for allegedly gathering in front of the City Hall on 15 May 2020 to oppose the new administration of a local market, despite the villagers’ COVID-19 preventative measures.
- Thai exile Wanchalearm disappeared in Cambodia
At 5.54 pm on 4 June 2020, while Mr. Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37 years old Thai exile living in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, was buying food in front of his apartment, he was taken by a group of armed individuals into a car. The apartment security guard witnessed the incident and attempted to help unsuccessfully. Wanchalearn’s family and friends tried to contact him but to no avail. The investigation into the case at the apartment could not locate Wanchalearm, after more than a month.
Wanchalearm is the ninth political asylee to have disappeared since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) summoned a list of individuals following the May 2014 coup. Two of the nine – Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Buphawan – were found dead floating in the Mekong river following their disappearances. No progress has been made regarding their deaths till date.
Wanchalearm used to work on youth and LGBTI issues. Following the coup, he was summoned among a list of individuals by the NCPO Order 44/B.E.2557 (2014). He refused to report himself and fled to a neighboring country. The NCPO, therefore, filed charges against him for not reporting himself. In June 2018, authorities accused the Facebook page “I will surely get 100 million [Thai Baht] from Taksin” of violating Section 14(2) of the Computer Crime Act. The page was alleged to have posted comments critical of the NCPO. Wanchalearm was believed to be the administrator of the page.
The disappearance of Wanchalearm led to many protests calling for justice and public debate on enforced disappearances of Thai exiles both online and offline. Among many protestors, 15 face charges for carrying out political activities, a total of nine lawsuits. Four cases were in relation to gatherings which may cause virus transmission under the Emergency Decree’s Regulation 1; two of which were activities carried out in front of the Cambodian embassy, another was a gathering in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), and the other was in eastern Rayong province. Another five cases related to the Public Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness; all resulted from a symbolic act of tying a white ribbon in different locations initiated by the Student Union of Thailand. Individuals who expressed opinions on Wanchalearm’s disappearance were also followed and harassed by Thai authorities.
- Commemorating 88th anniversary of the 24 June Siamese Revolution faces heavy crackdown
On 24 June 2020, the 88th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution which transitioned Thailand from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, several groups of students and individuals carried out activities to commemorate the event in at least 21 locations in 15 provinces throughout Thailand. Northeastern Thailand saw the highest number of activities at nine. In almost every activity, The People’s Party’s Announcement, containing criticisms of the absolute monarchic regime, was read aloud and the People’s Party’s plague was placed to resemble the revolution.
Activities in several locations face interference, harassment, and a crackdown by authorities. A day before the anniversary, the Police Commissioner ordered police forces to closely monitor groups in 12 provinces where protests were planned. Authorities surveilled their activities and warned protestors that any gathering was in breach of the Emergency Decree’s Regulation 1.
As a result, three activities were canceled: one planned at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Bangkok; another in northeastern province Surin; and the other in northeastern province Roi Et. Police in these locations reportedly met with organizers and pressured them to cancel all plans, threatening with charges under the Emergency Decree and the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly in Surin, three plainclothes police visited the organizer’s residence and warned of prosecution. The police further mentioned the event on 6 October 1976 student massacre.
Administrative government officers in southern province Surat Thani also met with and questioned organizers of the seminar “88th anniversary of 24 June 1932” organized by the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT), citing the district chief’s order. The organizers, therefore, had to conclude the seminar ahead of the planned schedule. Organizers of another three events, in northeastern provinces Yasothon, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Ubon Ratchathani, also faced pressure from authorities and later adjusted the nature of their events from a gathering of a large number of protestors to a small group and refraining from reading aloud the People’s Party’s Announcement.
In other locations, authorities deployed other methods to obstruct the activities, including setting up fences to limit space for gatherings, monitoring local communities, checking protestors’ identity cards, and photographing and recording protestors and protest signs. Authorities also visited organizers prior to and after the activities and monitored students in provinces where no plan for the anniversary was announced.
- Surveillance of monarchy-related comments continues
In June, the authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression in relation to the monarchy continued. Facebook user Mr. Tiwagorn Withiton posted a photo of himself wearing a shirt reading “We lost faith in the monarchy” and shared it on Facebook group Royalist Marketplace. Later, on 19 June 2020, two plainclothes officers from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) visited his residence in northeastern province Khon Kaen. The officers questioned his mother about the shirt and his affiliation. The next day, almost ten plainclothes officers from different agencies visited him again and claimed that the central agency had sent them. Officers attempted to dissuade him from wearing the shirt, citing that the action caused public panic. Tiwagorn insisted on wearing the shirt and affirmed that his action was legitimate.
On 29 June 2020, four plainclothes officers of unknown affiliation visited the residence Mr. Prasit Krutharoj, an activist of the Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy, in northern province Kamphaeng Phet. The officers informed the village head that they were newly-appointed officers who wished to investigate Prasit. One of the officers claimed that Prasit was an aggressor and inciter of the monarchy, despite him never having expressed any opinions on the matter.
On 15 June 2020, PM Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha also gave a press interview about opinions deemed as distorted facts and insulting to the monarchy. The PM stated that King Rama X had mercy and advised the government not to prosecute individuals with Article 112 of the Criminal Code, an offense of royal defamation. The spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police gave details that the police had investigated and created a list of individuals with such behaviors. The police are in the process of considering charging individuals with Section 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act on a case by case basis. The Police Commissioner further acknowledged concerns about social media activities of student groups.
Key cases updates
- Court acquits and releases NCPO critic Thanet after 3 years and 10 months in prison
On 25 June 2020, the Criminal Court read a verdict on Mr. Thanet Anantawong, a political activist. Thanet was charged with a sedition-like offense under Article 116 of the Criminal Code and Section 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act, for allegedly posting and sharing five comments on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the armed forces on his personal Facebook handle in 2015. The case was initially set to try in a military court, with multiple delays in the proceedings. The defendant had been detained during the trial. The suit was later transferred to a civilian court in late 2019 and the court examined the rest of the witnesses.
The court acquitted the defendant of all charges, seeing that the prosecution could not prove any seditious or inciting activities or gatherings as a result of the defendant’s comments. The defendant is recognized as a protest participant, instead of a protest organizer, therefore his comments were not meant as an invitation or persuasion of people to cause chaos. The court regarded his actions as one of an honest citizen. Despite the differences of his opinions about individuals in power, the court saw that his actions were within the purposes of the Constitution and his comments were made in good faith. The prosecution did not provide reasonable evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Thanet was therefore released after being detained for three years and ten months during the course of this trial and for breaking release conditions in another case relating to the NCPO’s ban on political gatherings in the Train to Rajabhakti incident.
- Criminal court acquits KonthaiUK, claims no false comment
On 15 June 2020, the Criminal Court read a verdict on ten individuals who were charged with Section 14(2) of the Computer Crime Act for allegedly shared comments from the Facebook page KonthaiUK on 13 June 2018. The comments were in relation to PM Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha in exile as a result of a treason verdict, and a corruption scandal about the satellite purchase by the armed forces.
The court acquitted the defendants of all charges – seeing that the comments consisted of some facts and not false information per the prosecution, and sharing the said comments was not a crime. During the trial, the prosecution witnesses expressed opinions promoting the government and politically partial. The comments shared by the defendants consisted of criticisms of the government but did not cause public panic or affect national security, therefore not violating the law.
All ten defendants were charged and prosecuted simply for sharing the content of the Facebook page, not creating ones. The proceedings lasted more than two years and burdened all defendants economically and socially.
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