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(New York) - Military forces responsible for a coup d’etat in Thailand today should immediately restore fundamental human rights and protect those exercising their rights to free expression, association and assembly, Human Rights Watch said today.

Thai army officers opposing the administration of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took over government institutions in Bangkok today, pledging to reform government and fight corruption. In their public announcement, the coup leaders suspended Thailand’s constitution as well as the country’s parliament and senate.

“Thaksin’s rule had seriously eroded respect for human rights in Thailand, but suspending basic rights under the constitution is not the answer,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Thailand needs to solve its problems through the rule of law and the people exercising their right to choose their own leaders.”

Thailand has been in a political crisis since the rise of massive political opposition in Bangkok to Thaksin Shinawatra and his crackdown on the country’s media and dissenting voices. Thaksin had been acting as a caretaker prime minister after the Constitutional Court nullified the results of the April 2 general elections because of electoral irregularities and improper intrusion by political groups allied with the Thaksin’s party.

Thaksin’s five-year rule has been marked by serious human rights abuses. Thaksin launched a “war on drugs” in 2003 that resulted in more than 2,000 extrajudicial executions of alleged drug dealers, none of which have been properly investigated. Security forces responded to an insurgency in the country’s mostly Muslim southern provinces by committing widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and “disappearances” of many people.

The takeover this evening was the first coup attempt in Thailand in 15 years. But before that, Thailand had suffered through dozens of military coups, many of them marked by bloody purges and serious human rights violations.

“The return of tanks to the streets of Bangkok is clear evidence that the rights of all Thais are in jeopardy,” said Adams. “So, too, is Thailand’s position in the region as a leading democracy with a strong civil society.”

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