(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately provide necessary medical treatment to Thanet Anantawong, a critic of Thailand’s junta who was arrested in his sickbed and has been held in military custody since December 13, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have accused him of committing sedition and computer crimes for sharing Facebook commentary about army corruption scandals.
On December 13 at about noon, two officers in civilian clothes arrested Thanet, 25, while he was being treated at Bangkok’s Sirindhorn Hospital for inflammatory bowel disease and epididymo-orchitis. Around 6 p.m. that day, officers at the 11th Army Circle military base informed Thanet’s family by telephone that his condition had deteriorated and told them to bring medicine for him. But neither Thanet’s family nor his lawyer were allowed to meet him in person.
“Thailand’s junta has reached a new level of ruthlessness by snatching an activist from his hospital bed, putting him in military detention, and depriving him of needed medical treatment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thanet Anantawong needs to be immediately transferred to a hospital.”
The lack of medical treatment for Thanet in military custody raises fears for his health and safety. On November 24, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists submitted a letter to the Thai government raising serious concerns regarding conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base after the recent deaths of fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpolwong and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa, both charged with lese majeste (insulting the monarchy), during their detention there. On the same day, the Southeast Asia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the immediate closure of this detention facility and an independent investigation into these custodial death cases.
The government has so far denied requests by human rights groups to visit detainees and examine conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base and other military detention facilities.
Thanet is the second pro-democracy activist arrested over the past week for sharing Facebook infographics alleging that Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha and other members of the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), committed corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project – a newly built park on army land that honors Thailand’s monarchy.
On December 9, General Prayut said in a media interview that he ordered Thai authorities to take legal action against anyone involved in the making and sharing of Facebook infographics about the Rajabhakti Park scandal. According to a media interview on the same day by Maj. Gen. Wicharn Jodtaeng, chief of the NCPO’s Legal Office, pressing “Like” on Facebook contents on such issues would also be prosecuted. In addition to Thanet and Thanakorn Siripaiboon, whose arrest on December 8 triggered this new crackdown, the junta indicated that hundreds of other people could face charges of violating the Computer Crime Act and section 116 of the Penal Code – the equivalent of sedition – for Facebook posts about the corruption scandal.
Since the May 2014 coup, the NCPO has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people they accuse of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-junta protests and activities. Many of these people have been held incommunicado in military camps where they have been interrogated without safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised serious concerns regarding secret military detention in Thailand.
“Since Thailand’s coup, it hasn’t been hard to get thrown in jail for criticizing the junta,” Adams said. “Now, all you have to do is press ‘Like’ on your Facebook page.”