(New York) – Thailand’s military government has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms since the May 22, 2014 coup, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. In response to calls from the United Nations and many concerned governments to respect rights and transition to a civilian government, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has vaguely promised elections but has taken no steps to restore genuine democratic rule.
“Military rule has sent human rights in Thailand into a free fall, with no sign that the promised democratic transition will happen any time soon,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The junta is using draconian martial law powers to prosecute dissenters, ban political activity, and censor the media.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
On November 21, 2014, coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, now both prime minister and NCPO chairman, undercut his prior claims about a roadmap to civilian democratic rule when he said: “Don’t ask me to give you democracy and elections. This is not the right time.” He added that martial law would be enforced “as long as necessary.”
Since the coup, the NCPO has functioned without accountability and enjoyed immunity for its abusive acts. The junta has largely banned political activity, has carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and has disregarded serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
Acting under the severe Martial Law Act of 1914, the NCPO has ordered print and electronic media, journalists, online bloggers, social media users, and the general public not to criticize the military. The junta has censored articles and blocked more than 200 websites, including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page, because the sites are deemed to be threats to national security. The authorities have arrested protesters opposed to military rule, including students who flashed the three-finger salute used in the Hollywood movie The Hunger Games as an act of defiance, or critics reading George Orwell’s novel 1984 in public. Those charged face a trial in a military court and up to two years in prison if convicted.
The junta has brought at least 14 new cases of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) under article 112 of the criminal code. Those charged are routinely denied bail and often jailed for many months awaiting trial in military courts. Convictions have resulted in harsh sentences. Under martial law, a military court verdict is final and cannot be appealed.
The military and police have operated with impunity in Thailand’s southern border provinces since a separatist insurgency erupted in 2004. To date, not a single member of the security forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses in Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces. Separatist insurgents point to government abuses to recruit new members and justify their campaign of terror targeting officials and civilians, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives over the past 10 years.
Thailand is not a party to the United Nations Refugee Convention and has no law that recognizes refugee status. Ethnic Rohingya who are fleeing abuses in Burma are routinely treated as illegal migrants when they arrive by sea in Thailand. Thousands of Rohingya families have been detained in poor conditions. The Thai government has turned a blind eye to networks of human traffickers preying on Rohingya seeking to travel to Malaysia. In June, the US State Department downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report for failing to combat human trafficking.
“Thailand’s generals are tightening their grip on power and showing contempt for human rights,” Adams said. “The junta’s promised path back to democratic rule will only be credible when martial law is revoked, censorship ends, and peaceful political criticism can take place.”