Public Statement “The Exercise of Freedom of Expression to Criticize the Monarchy”

Since 18 July 2020, youth and various civic groups have demonstrated against dictatorship in Thailand.  Free Youth has proposed three demands: the state must stop intimidating the people, a new constitution must be drafted, and parliament must be dissolved. At least 107 public activities and assemblies have been organized in 52 provinces, the latest of which was the #ThammasatCan’tTakeItAnymore demonstration organized by the United Front of Thammasat and Assembly at Lan Payanak on Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 10 August 2020.

In addition to their main demands, the demonstrators in each of these assemblies have pitched various other demands based on their specific interests. These have included demands related to education, same-sex marriage, legalization of sex work and criticism of the expansion of the power of the monarchy in the aftermath of the coup, such as in the ten demands listed in Declaration No. 1 of the United Front of Thammasat and Assembly.

The exercise of the right to freedom of expression and public assembly has caused at least 76 organizers of the events to face intimidation and surveillance, as well as being told to call off the events, denied permission to hold the events, and the events being intervened by the authorities, etc. At least four legal cases have been initiated against individuals who have exercised their right to freedom of expression, particularly as a result of their criticism of the monarchy. It has led to the arrests of lawyer Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, and Phanuphong Jadnok, a university student, and it appears more people will be slapped with legal cases. The issue has ignited widespread and fiery debate online as some view the exercise of such freedom of expression by the demonstrators as illegal acts and “insulting to the monarchy.” They have even threatened that the dehumanizing violence of 6 October 1976 at Thammasat’s Tha Pra Chan campus could repeat itself.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) is concerned about the situation and would like to share the following opinions:

  1. In a democracy, freedom of expression is one of the most important freedoms. Being free to express oneself and being free to participate in a peaceful assembly are instrumental to the process of democratization and do not cause public havoc. Public administration that responds to the needs of the people, who are the power holders in a democracy, is not possible without the expression of opinions by the people.
  2. The exercise of freedom of expression to criticize the monarchy — whether to question its expenses, its powers and duties, and how a king should behave, and even to question the form of government — is a legitimate right since monarchy is a constitutional organ. As freedom of expression is essential in a democracy, the criticism made about the monarch as a state organ is therefore normal as attested to in other democracies including Spain or the Netherlands where such criticism can be made openly and publicly.
  3. The right to freedom of expression and assembly is prescribed and upheld in Sections 34 and 44 of the 2017 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand and Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Thailand is a state party and with which it is obliged to comply. Such a right is also regarded as a universal value in compliance with international human rights standards.

The demonstration at Thammasat University on 10 August 2020, the protest at the Democracy Monument on 3 August 2020 and other public gatherings have all been conducted peacefully by unarmed protestors. It is merely the exercise of the legitimate rights to freedom of expression and assembly and can be done under a constitutional monarchy.

TLHR, therefore, urges the state to respect, protect and uphold the exercise of such rights and freedoms, to stop any harassment and any attempt to stymie or intervene in the activities, and to stop criminalizing individuals who exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. We also urge the public to be tolerant to the various opinions expressed. This will eventually bring us on course towards a full-fledged democracy.

With respect in the people’s rights and freedoms

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)

11 August 2020