(New York) – Thailand’s junta should immediately disclose the whereabouts of a former government minister whom the military detained on September 9, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Pichai Naripthaphan, who was energy minister from 2011 to 2012, is being held in incommunicado detention.
On September 10, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media that Pichai was detained because of his “expression of opinions that challenge the authorities…. Whether there will be harsh or soft measures [against Pichai], it is my decision.... No one can oppose me. If they won’t learn, they will be detained again and again… I might tape their mouths shut, too.” Col. Winthai Suwaree, spokesperson for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said that Pichai was in military custody, but refused to provide any information regarding his whereabouts or status. The junta also refused access to Pichai’s family members and legal counsel.
“The Thai junta continues to use arbitrary arrest and secret detention to intimidate and silence people who peacefully criticize military rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “As the junta tightens its dictatorial powers, Thailand’s climate of fear is intensifying.”
On September 9 at 8:05 a.m., Pichai posted a comment on his Facebook page: “Being summoned for ‘attitude adjustment’ again. Soldiers will come to pick me up this morning at 9:30 a.m.” Then, at 9:42 a.m., he posted his photo standing next to two soldiers from the army’s 12th Signal Division (King’s Guard) before they took him away from his house in Bangkok. He has not been seen in public since.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned the use of arbitrary arrest and secret military detention by Thailand’s junta. Since the May 22, 2014 coup, the NCPO has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in alleged anti-coup activities.
The NCPO has held many of those people incommunicado in military camps in violation of Thailand’s international human rights obligations. The junta has consistently failed to provide information about people in secret detention, claiming such practices are desirable to ensure safety of the detainees and to allow them to undergo forced “attitude adjustment” without disruption from outsiders.
The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in unofficial military detention. 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.
The junta typically compels persons released from military detention to sign an agreement that infringes on their fundamental liberties, including agreeing not to make political comments, become involved in political activities, or travel overseas without the junta’s permission. Failure to comply with the agreement can result in a new detention, a sentence of two years in prison, or a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,250). Those who fail to report to an NCPO summons also face arrest and prosecution in military court, which gives them no right to appeal the verdict.
“The junta’s pledges to respect human rights have proven meaningless,” Adams said. “General Prayuth should immediately order an end to arbitrary arrest and secret detention, and release all those being wrongfully held.”