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(New York) – Thailand’s military junta tightened its grip on power and severely repressed fundamental rights in the past year, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. Public pledges by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to respect human rights and return the country to elected civilian rule went unfulfilled.

Thailand's prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, salutes members of the Royal Thai Army at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand on September 30, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Under military rule, Thailand’s human rights crisis has gone from bad to worse, and there seems to be no end in sight,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The junta is jailing and prosecuting dissenters, barring public protests, censoring the media, and restricting critical political speech.”

The NCPO, led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, has committed human rights violations with total impunity since the May 2014 coup, disregarding concerns raised by the United Nations, human rights groups, and many foreign governments. On March 31, 2015, nationwide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the interim constitution, which absolves those acting on behalf of the NCPO of all legal liability. In November 2015, the junta proposed that a new constitution being drafted should guarantee blanket amnesty for the use of military force to “protect national security.”

The date promised by the NCPO to hold elections to return to civilian rule continued to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain. Meanwhile, the junta continued to ban political activity and peaceful public gatherings, carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and disregarded serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in military custody. At least 27 people were charged with sedition for criticizing military rule and violating the junta’s ban on public assembly. During the year, the NCPO increased its use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians, mostly political dissidents and alleged offenders of the lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) laws.

The junta forced the cancellation of at least 60 events, seminars, and academic panels on the political situation and human rights in 2015, including a report launch by Human Rights Watch, because it deemed the events a threat to stability and national security.

The junta made frequent use of Thailand’s draconian laws against criticizing the monarchy. At least 56 lese majeste cases have been brought since the coup, mostly for online commentary. Military courts have imposed harsh sentences. In August, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced Pongsak Sriboonpeng to 60 years in prison for his alleged lese majeste Facebook postings (later reduced to 30 years when he pleaded guilty). It was the longest recorded sentence for lese majeste in Thailand’s history.

Prayut has frequently stated that soldiers should not be condemned for any loss of life they caused during the 2010 political confrontations in Bangkok. To date, not a single member of the Thai security forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses related to counterinsurgency operations in Thailand’s southern Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces.

The government defied pleas from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and several foreign governments and violated the international prohibition against forcible return (refoulement) of refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they faced likely persecution. The most egregious instances included the deportation of two Chinese activists to China in November, and the deportation of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China in July.

“Respect for human rights in Thailand is going down the drain,” Adams said. “The international community urgently needs to press the junta to reverse course, end repression, respect fundamental rights, and fulfill its pledges to return to democratic civilian rule.”

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