(New York) – The Thai military authorities should immediately provide information about the whereabouts of an opposition activist arrested by soldiers on May 28, 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. Instead of revealing her place of detention, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta included her name on a June 17 list of people summoned to report to the authorities by June 18 or face arrest.
Soldiers arrested Kritsuda Khunasen, 27, on May 28 in Chonburi province, but the military authorities have declined to disclose any information about her detention or provide any evidence that she has been released, raising grave concerns for her safety. Instead, the military has denied any knowledge of her whereabouts despite television footage showing that she was arrested and taken away by soldiers from the 14th Military Circle.
“The Thai military should put to rest fears that Kritsuda has been forcibly disappeared by immediately disclosing her location and allowing access to a doctor and a lawyer,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Concerned governments should demand that Thailand’s military authorities immediately explain what has happened to her and ensure her safety.”
Kritsuda is a well-known activist with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the Red Shirts. She has been instrumental in a campaign to provide legal and humanitarian assistance to UDD members and supporters affected by political violence that took place in 2010.
Since Kritsuda’s arrest, her family and Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have tried unsuccessfully to locate her. Human Rights Watch has publicly raised concerns about Kritsuda’s safety and other secret military detentions.
Kritsuda has already been held two weeks longer than the seven-day period of administrative detention permitted under the 1949 Martial Law Act, which the military invoked after carrying out its coup on May 22, 2014.
Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the permanent secretary of the Thai Foreign Ministry, told the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 12 that most of the people summoned by the military authorities had already been released, and that no one had been held for more than a week. The NCPO has contended that incommunicado detention is necessary to allow detainees to “cool off and adjust their attitude” without disruption from outsiders.
Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.
Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. “Disappeared” people are often at high risk of torture, particularly when they are detained outside of formal detention facilities such as prisons and police stations.
Since the coup, the military has detained more than 300 ruling party and opposition politicians, activists, journalists, and individuals accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities. While many of those detained have been released, the military continues to issue orders summoning people to turn themselves in.
After reporting to the military, those summoned are usually interrogated and then sent to be detained incommunicado in unofficial places of detention, such as military camps. Those who fail to report after an NCPO summons, such as former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng, the protest leader Sombat Boon-ngarmanong, the labor activist Jitra Kotchadet, and the law professor Worachet Pakeerut, face arrest and could be prosecuted in military courts.
“Summoning someone already in custody raises concerns that the authorities may be preparing to cover up a disappearance and that something may have happened to Kritsuda,” Adams said. “The best way to prove this is not the case is to release her unharmed.”