(New York) – Thailand’s military junta increased its repression and failed to restore democratic rule in 2016, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017. A new constitution, adopted in an August referendum that was marked by a crackdown against its critics, effectively entrenches unaccountable and abusive military rule.

A Thai activist protests the junta-backed constitution ahead of the August 7 referendum in Bangkok, June 15, 2016.

© 2016 Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

“Thailand’s human rights crisis has worsened over the year as the military junta has tightened its grip on power and led the country deeper into dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Rather than leading the country back to democratic rule, the junta has increasingly persecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, censored the media, and suppressed speech in the press and online.”

The ruling National Council for Peace and Order – led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha – has banned political activity and public gatherings, made expression subject to criminal prosecution, censored the media, conducted hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and detained civilians in military detention. Gen. Prayut’s order on September 12, to end the practice of prosecuting civilian cases in military courts was a limited step because it does not apply to the more than 1,800 civilians already awaiting trial in military courts. The military also retains authority to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse or accountability for human rights violations.

The junta has arbitrarily and aggressively used the lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) laws to prosecute people for any expression deemed critical of the monarchy. Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have charged at least 68 people with lese majeste, mostly for posting or sharing comments online. The crackdown has intensified since the death of revered King Bhumibhol Adulyadej on October 13.

There still has been zero justice for past state-sponsored abuses. The Prayut government has shown no interest in investigating more than 2,000 extrajudicial killings related to then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “war on drugs” in 2003. No policy makers, commanders, or soldiers have been punished for wrongful use of force during the 2010 political confrontations in Bangkok, which left at least 90 dead and more than 2,000 injured. Nor have any security personnel been criminally prosecuted for human rights violations in the southern border provinces, where separatist insurgents have also committed numerous abuses against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.

The killing and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders and other activists remains a pressing concern. Thai authorities and private companies have increasingly used defamation lawsuits under the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act to retaliate against those reporting human rights violations.

“Prime Minister Prayut has fed the UN and its member countries empty promises on human rights,” Adams said. “The junta needs to be pressed to end repression, respect fundamental freedoms, and return Thailand to democratic civilian rule.”