Before 14 October: Overview of harassment of individuals by authorities following Free Youth’s protest (Statistics of 18 July to 10 October 2020)

#StopHarassingPeople is listed as one of the three demands declared during a pro-democracy group Free Youth’s first protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July 2020. Three months later, with now more than a hundred protests, including those organized by students, throughout Thailand – not only the call remains unfulfilled, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) find that authorities have continued to harass individuals who participated in protests and students who became politically active.

The restriction of freedom of expression by authorities comes in many patterns: visits to residence, harassment of individuals’ family members, intervention and obstruction of assembly, closure of demonstration venue, and the enforcement of “law” and the “justice system” as a political tool. These practices are rampant and represent the many ways authorities abuse power since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) staged a coup and sat as government from 2014 to 2019.

In present, with the NCPO out of the picture – police, military and security officers maintain a “culture of harassment” of individuals without signs of stopping.

TLHR has monitored and documented the situation of assemblies in the past three months, and to date has received extensive reports. This article presents an overview of the statistics of harassment by authorities before another planned protest on 14 October.

Three months following Free Youth’s protest, at least 246 assemblies in 62 provinces throughout Thailand

Since the demonstration organized by Free Youth on 18 July until 10 October 2020, totaling 85 days, there have been at least 246 demonstrations attributed to the same causes in at least 62 provinces throughout Thailand. The average number is 2.9 protest – almost three – protests a day.

This number excludes all events and activities organized by students within school areas, following the “Free People” assembly on 16 August, due to the difficulties of documenting every event throughout Thailand.

For protest venues, school and educational institutions have been used as a demonstration site at least 74 times, with 43 protests held at universities and 31 at schools. Public areas, including key locations in the provinces, have also been occupied during protests. Some protests have taken place at police stations, courts and prisons when individuals called for the release of detained demonstrators.

Demonstrations and activities have occurred in 13 provinces in Thailand’s northern region, 19 in the northeast, 19 in central and east Thailand, and 10 in the South.

Bangkok has to date seen the highest number of assemblies with at least 76 events, followed by Khon Kaen province (Northeast) with at least 12 protests, Chiang Mai province (North) with at least 11 protests, and Ubon Ratchathani (Northeast), Songkhla (South) and Pathum Thani (Central) with at least 8 protest in each province.

With the exception of activities and events held in school or educational institution area, there are 15 provinces where no protest took place: Mukdaharn, Mae Hong Son, Uttaradit, Phichit, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Uthai Thani, Trat, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Petchburi, Chumphon, Pang Nga, Ranong and Narathiwat. Despite the absence of demonstrations, harassment of individuals by authorities to obstruct activities and events plans were documented in these provinces.

Out of 246 assemblies, at least 15 were planned but could not be successfully organized, mostly due to pressure from the schools or the authorities’ orders. This includes the events where organizers publicly cancelled the plans, but individuals participated nonetheless.

In northern Thailand, #PetchabunWontTolerate event was planned in Lomsak district, Petchabun province. However, plainclothes officials took organizers into custody at a local police station without a warrant. Organizers were detained and threatened with a lawsuit until they decided to cancel the event. Some participants later turned up at the site planned for the event and held signs of protest.

In central Thailand, organizers of #SuphanWontTolerate2 were pressured by local officials to cancel the event. One of the planned speakers, a high school student, was visited by authorities, who claimed to monitor their safety, three times at their residence. The organizers decided to cancel the event due to concerns for the safety of speakers and protesters

In northeastern Thailand, local authorities questioned personal information of #AmnatDoesntWantDictatorship organizers, enquiring their family members and neighbours. A local market was also shut down by authorities due to concerns of a clash between mobs. Organizers had to cancel the physical gathering and moved the event to online platform.

Events planned in school areas have also seen intervention and suppression. Organizers of #HorWangWillDestroyDictatorship, planned in Bangkok, were summoned by school executives where they met with dozens of teachers and two police who attempted to set out conditions of the event – that participants must sign up and acquire consent from their parents before joining the event. Due to these conditions, the organizers decided to cancel the event in fear of harassment by authorities.

At Satri Witthaya 2 School, Bangkok, and Khon Kaen Witthayayong School, northeastern Thailand, school executives ordered a mosquito control gas while police were present in school premises during the period planned for the event. Organizers, therefore, decided to shut down the event.

Apart from intervention by schools and authorities, events were cancelled due to organizers’ incomplete preparation, including events in Prachin Buri and Sakhon Nakhon provinces.

At least 65 protestors have been prosecuted in 23 cases

With “law” as a tool to suppress and prevent political expression amid the intensifying situation since Free Youth’s protest, TLHR documented prosecutions of at least 65 individuals in 23 lawsuits.

33 of those prosecuted are students, more than half of individuals facing charges as a result of political participation in the past three months.

It is worth observing if a grade 12th student will be prosecuted as their name appeared on a list of protestors from #RatchaburiFightDictatorship who will receive summon warrants; however, after police received wide criticism from the list, they postponed the summons and established a committee to reconsider the casefile.

The main offence used for prosecution is the breach of the Regulation No.1 (invoked under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree) on the Prohibition of the Assembly of Persons which carries an imprisonment sentence not exceeding two years. Individuals who participated in four protests held in Bangkok have been charged, along with those who gathered in mobs in provinces including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampoon, Lamphang, Phayhao, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Maha Sarakham (See also Table of Cases under the Emergency Decree on political assemblies)

The government’s statements have confirmed that the enforcement of the Emergency Decree is not political, however demonstrators continued to face new suits under the charter as a result of their political participation. In the past three months, no case of COVID transmission was reported among protestors.

In some provinces, police have summoned participants to question, including in Phitsanulok province (North) and Surat Thani province (South). It remains unclear whether these individuals would be charged.

“Sedition” under Article 116 of the Penal Code is among offences most seen prosecuted, in three cases – Free Youth’s protest on 18 July, Harry Potter-themed protest on 3 August, and #ThammasatWontTolerate on 10 August. Article 116 carries a heavy penalty of imprisonment not exceeding seven years, which allows for cause for the court to order an arrest warrant for suspects. Consequently, 15 activists and protestors were arrested – some more than once – in August and September.

With the absence of any charges under the Emergency Decree, the Public Assembly Act B.E. 2558 (2015) has been used in at least two cases: the gathering in front of Bangkhen police station calling for the release of human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and activist Panupong “Mike” Chadnok, and the gathering in Udon Thani province (Northeast) to show moral support for the pair.

Since early August, the government issued regulations on assemblies under the Emergency Decree whereas power under the Public Assembly Act could have been invoked. However, the government still simultaneously used offences under the Public Assembly Act which prescribes that, under emergency situation, the charter must not be used. The restrictions on public assemblies were, therefore, intensified, even more so than during the Emergency Decree’s disease control and despite the decrease of COVID-19 transmissions.

Other offences have been used by authorities to prosecute protestors, including assembly of more than ten persons, obstruction of public ways, disparaging of officials, battery, damage of property, and contempt of court under the Thai Criminal Code, offences under the Computer Crime Act, Communicable Diseases Act, Land Traffic Act, Public Orderliness and Maintenance Act, Advertisement Control Act, Air Traffic Act, and Solicitation Control Act.

Authorities visit residences and educational intuitions of at least 145 individuals

Apart from prosecution, house visit is another pattern of harassment carried out by authorities to prevent or dissuade individuals from exercising their freedom of expression. TLHR found that, since the Free Youth’s protest, at least 145 persons have been contacted or visited at home, school or educational institution as a result of their participation in political events. Out of 145, 29 are students and 25 college students. Some individuals have seen multiple visits by authorities during this period.

House visits vary in each situation. Authorities have paid a visit to protestors’ house before the demonstration to threaten and prevent them from organizing or joining the demonstration. At least two grade 11th students in northern province Lamphun were followed home by police officers who then talked and threatened their parents that the students were listed as protest leaders and “blacklisted.” The police further requested the students to refrain from engaging in political activities. Subsequently, the students withdrew themselves from the event.

In southern province Phatthalung, a grade 10th student who shared a post encouraging others to join the protest was called into a teacher’s office with three police officers present. Officers questioned her about the post, shared concerns that the post violated the Computer Crime Act, and requested her to delete the post. Other administrative authorities also paid a visit and met with the student. As a result, the student was too scared to join the protest.

In central province Suphan Buri, plainclothes authorities visited the residence of a student, listed as speaker at a local gathering, three times on the day the protest was announced. Officers warned the student from commenting on the monarchy in the speech. Organizers of the demonstration were also visited by authorities at their residence. The event was cancelled as a result.

In western province Kanchanaburi, authorities also visited the residence of a student who organized the protest, and demanded that a post encouraging others to join the demonstration be deleted.

In some demonstrations where authorities seem unclear who the organizers were, a “catch-all” harassment tactic was deployed. Officers monitored and visited individuals who have engaged in political activities in the past. In northern province Petchabun, at least three secondary school and university students with records of political engagement were visited and questioned by authorities about the planned assembly, although they were not part of the organizing group.

Prior to the major gathering in Bangkok on 19 September 2020, there were extensive reports of authorities’ surveillance and monitoring of demonstrators. At least 23 persons were visited by authorities in various areas throughout Thailand. They were often questioned about their plans regarding the protest, the number of participants, and their means of transportation to the protest. Authorities reportedly followed villagers and members of the Assembly of the Poor in several areas, including Nakhon Sawan, Chumphon, Chaiyaphum, Buriram, Bueng Kan, Yasothon and Sa Kaeo provinces. Many incidents involved visits of residences of grade and university students who previously gave speeches at assemblies, including in PhraeKrabiChonburiRoi Et provinces. Members of Red Shirt, pro-democracy group, in a number of provinces reported house visits as well.

Other harassment tactics were also present during demonstrations. The Emergency Decree and other legislations were cited by officers to put pressure on protestors. Authorities appeared to further device other types of interventions: confiscation of placards in relation to the monarchy and the “Royalist Marketplace (anti-monarchist Facebook group)” signs in northeastern province Nakhon Ratchasima, circling and checking ID cards of students who gave speeches at northern province Nakhon Sawan citing that they were the “new faces” unseen by authorities, arrest and questioning of gatherers holding portraits of King Rama IX at a rally organized at King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok.

Reports also show authorities continued their harassment tactics even after the assemblies concluded. In southern province Krabi, protestors who held “Royalist Marketplace” signs were later visited at home by authorities. They were questioned about the placard and forced to sign a MOU, acknowledging that their behaviors were inappropriate and they would refrain from such behaviors in the future. In central province Ayutthaya, a university student who presented a sign also read “Royalist Marketplace” was also visited at home by plainclothes authorities and warned to no longer engage in political activities.

Furthermore, reports show authorities visiting residences of demonstrators who held signs deemed in connection with the monarchy in Samut Prakan and Chiang Mai provinces.

In some areas, youth protestors were reportedly followed by authorities after leaving the assemblies. In northeastern province Sa Kaeo, four grade 12th students who joined #SaKaeoWontTolerate mob were followed by police. Officers searched for them in their village and at school, and ordered the village head to warn them from participating in political events. In Samut Prakan province, near Bangkok, at least two youth demonstrators who joined #MaeKhlongMustMove were monitored by authorities as well. Similar house visits also occurred in Bueng Kan and Nakhon Phanom provinces in northeast Thailand.

In addition, authorities allegedly visited the residences of volunteer legal officers who peacefully observed demonstrations in south Thailand and took no part in the protests.

Mob leaders and speakers have time and again seen authorities surveilling their residences and following their vehicles en route.

Authorities have suppressed and attempted to prevent demonstrations by harassing supporters and those who facilitated the demonstrations, including those who provided and rented equipment and necessary tools. Reports show authorities visiting their residences and offices to threaten them from joining or engaging with the assemblies.

In northern province Petchabun and northeastern province Loei, sound amplifier shop owners were threatened with the invocation of their license by authorities. As a result, shop owners refused to rent their sound amplifiers. In northern province Chiang Rai, authorities visited local water supplier who was hired to deliver water to the gathering site. Supplier was questioned about the contract and the customer.

At the major demonstration on 19 September, there were reports of authorities visiting and preventing speaker and mobile toilet trucks shop owners from providing their service. Officers met with owners of mobile toilet trucks and threatened staffs not to facilitate the move or else they would face prosecution. Toilet trucks were further prevented from parking on demonstration site. After the protest concluded, authorities also followed truck owners and questioned their personal information.

In provinces where no protest was held, TLHR received reports of police officers harassing individuals as a result of their online posts encouraging that protests are organized in their respective provinces. Police allegedly monitored their activities and questioned them about the possibility of local gatherings. These incidents were recorded in Prachuap Khiri Khan and Mae Hong Son.

In three southernmost provinces of Thailand, the Martial Law remains in effect and military officers, therefore, hold broad authority. At least 14 individuals reported being harassed and monitored by authorities in relation to their political activities. The tactics seen in this area involved a number of military officers with officials from other agencies. In some incidents, authorities who paid a visit and questioned locals appear fully armed. (See examples in news articles of Prachatai and Facebook page The Motive)

At least 34 online users are monitored and harassed for their opinions on the monarchy

While some individuals were harassed and monitored as a result of their participation in public assembly, TLHR received reports of authorities’ harassment against at least 34 people who expressed their opinions on or shared posts the monarchy on online platforms.

This pattern of harassment saw a surge since Tiwagorn Withiton was arrested and taken into a mental health institution in Khon Kaen province for wearing a shirt read “We lost faith in the monarchy”. His arrest led to extensive comments on online platforms during the period which overlapped the start of Free Youth’s protest.

Out of 34 individuals documented by TLHR, nine are secondary school students and 14 are college students. The rest are non-students.

Online users face similar patterns of harassment: police from local stations or officers from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) pay a visit to them at home without search or arrest warrants. In some cases, police officers brought the head of the village with them. During the visit, authorities questioned personal information of these individuals and requested that they delete posts containing criticisms of the monarchy or stop using Facebook altogether.

In some visits, authorities also requested that individuals sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to acknowledge that their online activities were inappropriate, and they would no longer engage in such activities. Authorities further threatened some users with royal defamation charge (Article 112 of the Penal Code) and computer-related crime offence (Computer Crime Act) if they fail to sign the MOU. However, MOUs do not have a legal standing or fit criteria for any government forms.

Notably, the content most posted by harassed users concerns the monarchy and is shared from Facebook accounts Somsak Jeamteerasakul (former academia at Thammasat University), Pavin Chachavalpongpun (lecturer at Kyoto University and former officer of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Andrew MacGregor Marshall (journalist) and Facebook page KonthaiUK (a pro-democracy page of Thai activists in the UK).

Many users who simply shared news containing factual information without expressing any comments on the story were also visited at home. A student at Maha Sarakham University shared a post regarding the reinstatement of the royal consort from a news website The Standard and was visited by authorities at home and accused of offending the monarchy

A student in Bangkok who shared reports regarding the detention of Tiwagorn and the cost of royal arches from news website Prachatai, was visited by police officers at home and threatened with computer-related crime charges under the Computer Crime Act. Authorities further forced him to sign a MOU which stated that he would refrain from posting anything in relation to the monarchy.

A stainless steel shop owner in northeastern province Loei changed his Facebook account cover photo to a photo of Tiwagorn wearing a shirt read “We lost faith in the monarchy”, on which ground Tiwagorn was arrested. The shop owner further wrote on the photo a comment “#SaveTiwagorn Stop harassing people”. Officials from several units later visited him and “invited” him to a local police station without any warrants. Police reportedly claimed that the post was in breach of royal defamation under Article 112 of the Penal Code. However, officers failed to press any charges against him, but filed a daily record before releasing him.

In cases where online users are students, authorities met with their family or legal guardians. Officers contacted the father of a secondary school student in southern province Surat Thani and asked them to come to the residence of the village’s head. The student was forced to sign an unofficial document to acknowledge that she posted a text deemed “precarious” without awareness of the consequences, and therefore deleted the text and would no longer carry out the same behavior. Her parents were also asked to sign the document as witnesses.

Officials from the Special Branch Police looked for a college student in Bangkok. Reportedly the visit stems from his sharing of a post from Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s Facebook account. Although the officers failed to meet him directly, they resorted to meeting his family, forcing them to sign a MOU and calling their child to delete the post and deactivate his Facebook.

Authorities’ “unlawful” operations in relation to any online comments on the monarchy are likely to escalate. Reports to TLHR indicate that authorities who carried out visits claimed there were more individuals subject to surveillance. Some people reported seeing photos of others in authorities’ surveillance list in their province during the visit. TLHR expects a higher number of individuals harassed by authorities.

Event at Walailak University (Photo from Prachatai)

#StopHarassingPeople amidst intensifying harassment

This article only presents a part of the human rights situation in the past three months. Harassment by authorities also come in different patterns varying in each demonstration: blocking or fencing off a planned protest site which limits the scope of the event, surveillance through CCTV cameras and video recording, photographing participants, or photographing license plates of participants’ vehicles. (See also demonstration observation records by Mob Data Thailand)

Amidst the students’ political awakening, teachers and staffs in educational institutions have taken a key role in intervention, suppression, or even harassment against students who expressed their opinions on political issues. Access to information and documentation of human rights violations in schools has proven limited, more so than that of colleges and for non-student individuals. (See also in Thai Lawyers for Human Rights report)

The situation of harassment by authorities in the past three months has been opposite of the three initial demands listed during Free Youth’s protest. Not only the call to “stop harassing people” not responded to, the harassment has also intensified to a wider extent. All forms of harassment have further been normalized and become “regular” and “familiar” throughout Thailand with no signs of stopping.