Human rights situation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic
The current wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has begun since April is still ongoing. In this period, infection cases have surged rapidly with the new daily infection cases exceeding 10,000 since 17 July. As a result, hospitals became overwhelmed and could not supply enough beds for patients. At the same time, Covid-19 screening measure has been slow leading to many ill and dead people on the street.
Meanwhile, the government has passed stricter measures restricting expression, assembly, and mobility in an attempt to curb the spread under the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations. Item 11 of the Regulation Issued under the Emergency Decree No. 27 dated 10 July 2021 on the prohibition of dissemination of news and information with ambiguous texts, for instance, states that, “it is prohibited to spread or disseminate news, whether by books, publications or any other media, that includes content which may incite fear among the public […]”. The regulation is not as specific as the one in 2020 that also mentioned false texts that could be legally interpreted, as well as facts that could incite fear. Moreover, it does not require that authorities notify the person for correction first before prosecution, but leaves it to the inquiry officer’s discretion entirely. The measure thus received broad criticisms in this regard.
The Chief of Defence Forces as the head responsible for the security aspects of the emergency situation has also issued another order effective from 16 July 2021 onwards prohibiting assemblies, activities, or gatherings that could lead to Covid-19 transmission. The order bans any assemblies or activities with transmission risks similar to the previously mentioned regulation, as well as determines new zones according to the Covid-19 situation in each province.
In addition, the prime minister promulgated the Regulation under the Emergency Decree No. 28 activating “highest lockdown measure” in 13 dark-red provinces including Bangkok and vicinity. People are advised to refrain from leaving their residence unnecessarily during the daytime except for food, medicine, doctor visit, vaccination, or necessary occupations, as well as refrain from leaving their residence during 9 pm – 4 am (curfew), or they could face legal action for violation of the Emergency Decree.
Despite the moves to restrict expression and assemblies, public critique of government’s Covid-19 management and vaccination program continues widely. People have repeatedly expressed their opinions both online as well as offline in various protests to call for Prayuth’s resignation.
Authorities still cite violation of the Emergency Decree in accusation of leaders and participants of political protests. In July, at least 38 people have been charged with the Emergency Decree, and 9 protestors were arrested during and after the protest organized by the Ratsadon Group to demand Covid-19 vaccines in front of the Ministry of Public Health on 16 July 2021. Charges under Section 116 of the Criminal Code were used, too.
15 protestors of the #18July rally, including 4 youths, were also detained. Some protestors were brought to the Region 1 Border Police Bureau again, even though it was not the responsible police station or the station to which the case owner had filed reports.
Police have been constantly issuing summon warrants with the Emergency Decree charges for the protests happening in June and July, including at least 38 participants of the protest to commemorate the Siamese Revolution on 24 June both in the morning and afternoon, or 17 protestors of the #2July rally to call for Prayuth’s Resignation in front of the House of Government.
Since the promulgation of the Emergency Decree on 26 March 2020 until the end of July 2021, TLHR found that at least 549 people in 178 cases have been accused of breaching the provisions of the Emergency Decree, including:
- 154 cases under the Emergency Decree aimed to control the spread of Covid-19
- 24 cases during the announcement of the state of serious emergency in Bangkok (from 15 October, 4 a.m. to 22 October, 12 p.m.)
Overall human rights situation
- People accused of political expression soared to 757, while the arrest and prosecution of Section 112 cases persist.
According to TLHR observation, at least 757 people in 413 cases were subject to legal prosecution since 18 July 2020 until the end of July 2021 for their political participation and expression. Among them were 51 youths of below 18 years old, 180 women, and 35 members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Compared to the figures as of the end of June 2021, this month saw an increase of 62 individuals and 39 cases (only counting those who had not been charged before).
As for the ‘lese majeste’ or the Section 112 of the Criminal Code, at least 10 people in 11 cases have been added to statistics since last month. As a result, since the end of November 2020 after the 2-year hiatus, at least 113 people in 111 cases have faced the lawsuits containing this charge.
People newly accused in the past month also included those involved in the protests in 2020, such as Saharat Sukkhamla or ‘Novice Folk’ who gave a speech at the #ByebyeDinosaur protest on 21 November 2020. He was regarded as the first clergyman charged with this provision in the current situation.
Furthermore, police proceeded to arrest people who expressed their opinions online without warrants, for instance, Prasong Kotsongkram from Lopburi province was detained at Bang Phlat Police Station and was not granted bail by the Court. TLHR has also been informed of another citizen who was detained in a similar manner at the same police station but was later released on bail.
Other examples include the case of Sitthichoke Setsawet, a delivery rider, who was apprehended after having been accused of setting fire to the royal portrait during the #18July rally on Rajadamnern Nok Avenue, and “Sai Nam”, a 17-year-old youth, who surrendered herself upon discovering that a warrant had been issued in her name for putting paper sheets and spraying colors on the portrait of the King Rama X in the same event.
Public prosecutors steadily processed the indictment of Section 112 cases with at least 33 having been forwarded to the Court since November 2020 until now.
The “Legal Aid Center for Victims of Online Bullies” still continues to threaten people expressing monarchy-related opinions by compiling and sharing their personal information via direct messages. In almost the past two months, TLHR has received reports of 200 such cases and has been monitoring whether the personal information would result in lawsuits. Moreover, the group also forwarded the information to employers, which has already affected the career of at least two individuals.
- Authorities illegally arrested at least 5 activists/citizens.
In July, authorities still arrested some activists or individuals illegally without warrants for a non-flagrant offence. Police usually took these people in for an inquiry without pressing charges. For instance, on 13 July 2021, police officers from Saen Suk Police Station in Chonburi province seized 3 Burapha University students on grounds of displaying anti-government and anti-monarchy banners on the dormitory balcony. When the lawyers arrived, they were told that no charges were pressed and it was merely an inquiry. No lawyer or untrusted persons were also allowed to be present. The interrogation was carried out individually in separate rooms for several hours and their mobile phones were examined before release.
On 18 July 2021 prior to the #18July rally at the Democracy Monument, authorities confiscated “straw dolls”, protest items by the #WeVolunteer group at a dormitory in Nontaburi province. The dormitory owner was also seized for allowing the dolls to be stored for interrogation at the Plaibang Police Station. Police claimed that they had been notified of hidden drugs there. When the police asked the dormitory owner how she got the items, she said she had been asked to keep them. The interrogation took around 2 hours without the presence of any lawyers and trusted persons.
On 31 July 2021, Ngoh (alias), an amplifier vehicle team member of the “Progressive Red Shirt” group, was visited by 4 plain-clothed officers at his house in Nakhon Pathom. The officers asked to examine the amplifier vehicle and the house, before taking him in the car to the police station before releasing him later. This event continued until in the morning of 1 August 2021, when Nakhon Pathom people planned to gather at the Phra Pathom Chedi before joining the car mob to call Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign.
- State authorities and officials regularly use defamation/libel charges on citizens.
July saw a continued tendency related to the prosecution of people criticizing cabinet members or government officials with defamation or libel by advertisement charge. Especially, Mr. Apiwat Khantong, executive assistant to the Prime Minister’s Office, has continued to file complaints with Nang Loeng Police Station against, for example, Danupha ‘Milli’ Khanatheerakul, a teenage rapper who tweeted about Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. Other actors and directors, including Patcharaporn ‘Nam’ Chantarapadit, Miss Grand Thailand 2020 and Yuthlert Sippapak, a film director, have also received summon warrants but had yet to report themselves.
Saksiam Chidchob, Minister of Transport, has entrusted a lawyer to initiate legal actions against internet users who posted about a man’s visit to an entertainment venue with text alleging that Saksiam contracted Covid-19. This month, at least one more user was summoned to hear the defamation by advertisement charge at Mueang Buriram Police Station.
Moreover, a total of 8 people has been additionally summoned by Mueang Udon Thani Police Station to press defamation by advertisement charge for sharing texts from the Facebook page “Free Thai Civil Servant” urging for a scrutiny of the Covid-19-related procurement in the Udon Thani Province Office. Mr. Pithit Chaikhamchan was the competent authority who received the complaints.
It was also reported that the citizen who modified the Wikipedia page of Dr. Yong Poovorawan, government’s Covid-19 advising doctor, stating that he was “the Sinovac salesperson for Gen. Prayuth’s government” was charged with defamation by advertisement, after Dr. Yong had assigned a lawyer to proceed in the matter. We have to continue to monitor the prosecution of people criticizing or even insulting authorities and those related to the government’s crisis handling with defamation by advertisement charge.
- State authorities continuously monitor and harass people posting about the monarchy and political activists.
This month, TLHR has received reports about authorities’ house visits of at least 22 citizens who shared monarchy-related opinions or helped organize political activities in all regions of the country, including:
– Approaching or summoning people to talk before the Car Mob event to dispel Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in various provinces, such as in Kanchanabhri on 29 and 30 July 2021. The leaders of the “Free Kanchanaburi for Democracy” group who had announced the “Mueang Kan Tour” activity on 1 August 2021 received visits by more than 30 officers in total from the police, army, ISOC, and administrative sector at their houses and were asked to refrain from organizing the said event due to the spread of Covid-19.
On 28 July 2021, the admin of the Facebook page “Thonburi Citizens” was visited by 7 plain-clothed police officers at his house in Samut Sakhon to force him to cancel the Car Mob event scheduled to take place in the evening of the same day. The officers remained to monitor him at his house until late to prevent the Facebook page admin from joining the activity.
– Harassment of people prior to royal visits, such as in Buriram and Surin. It was reported that Princess Sirindhorn was scheduled to visit the two provinces between 5 and 9 July 2021 and that police visited the house of at least 4 activists to inquire information and warn them not to do anything during the said period. When asked about the motives, the police said that they did not want to see protest signs and they were afraid that the activists would submit a letter to the princess. In some cases, the officers merely came to take pictures and drove away without informing the objectives.
– Posts or shares with monarchy-related content, such in Lopburi province. On 12 July 2021, 4 plain-clothed special branch police officers approached people in the province at their house and threatened them to delete the posts shared from the Facebook page “KTUK – Kon Thai UK”. The post stated that Queen Suthida and the monarchy were the sponsor of the “Legal Aid Center for Victims of Online Bullies”.
In Udon Thani, 2 vocational students received a house visit by the police after having shared a picture of a person flashing the three-finger salute in front of the King’s portrait accompanied by a poem criticizing the monarchy. The police warned against monarchy-related opinions and also asked them to delete the said post.