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(New York) – Thailand’s government should stop bringing trumped-up criminal charges against human rights lawyers to harass and retaliate against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Thailand’s friends, including the United States, should publicly call on the military junta to stop persecuting its critics.

On February 9, 2016, Bangkok police brought two charges against a human rights lawyer, Sirikan Charoensiri, connected to her representation of activists in June 2015. On February 19, the deputy national police chief, Gen. Sriwara Rangsipramanakul, publicly threatened to charge another lawyer, Chuchart Kanpai, with defamation and making false statements for alleging that his client, Bilal Mohammad (also known as Adem Karadag), was tortured into confessing to the August 2015 bomb attack at Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, which killed 20 people.

On January 28, police brought similar charges against another lawyer, Benjarat Meethien, after she said that Thai authorities used false evidence to accuse her client, Thanakrit Thongngernperm, of plotting subversive attacks during the December 2015 “Bike for Dad” cycling event to commemorate the king’s birthday. Officials initiated the charges after Benjarat refused to withdraw complaints against Maj. Gen. Wijarn Jodtaeng, the chief legal officer of the military’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and senior police officers for malfeasance, defamation, and making a false accusation against Thanakrit.

“The Thai junta is not only running a police state, it is now retaliating against the lawyers who are defending victims,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thai authorities should stop using bogus prosecutions to intimidate lawyers who challenge the government’s abuse and misconduct.”

The police charged Sirikan, a prominent member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), with refusing to comply with an order of an official and making a false statement to police. The first charge was triggered by Sirikan’s refusal to allow police to search her car and confiscate mobile phones belonging to her clients, activists from the New Democracy Movement, without a warrant on June 27, 2015. The second was a reaction to her complaint of official malfeasance regarding police seizure of her car on the morning of June 27. Sirikan was ordered to report to the public prosecutor’s office in Bangkok’s Dusit district for indictment on March 4.

Since the May 2014 military coup, Thai authorities have frequently responded to reports of human rights violations with a pattern of denials and counter-accusations to claim that those making allegations against the military government are not acting in good faith and intend to distort the truth, make false statements to the public, and damage Thailand’s international reputation.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand on February 2, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that governments should ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference. In addition, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties. It also protects everyone’s right to file formal complaints about alleged violations of human rights.

“Thailand’s post-coup human rights crisis seems to have no end in sight,” Adams said. “Instead of upholding the rule of law, the junta is undermining it by prosecuting lawyers for doing their jobs defending clients and reporting abuses by the authorities.” 

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