Anti-coup students hold posters dedicated to the third anniversary of a military coup during a demonstration at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand on May 22, 2017.

© 2017 Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

(New York) – Thailand’s government took no significant steps to restore democratic rule and basic freedoms in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. The military junta’s adoption of a national human rights agenda and repeated assurances that it would hold elections for a civilian government did nothing to reverse the country’s human rights crisis.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

“Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of restoring basic rights as promised, the junta prosecuted critics and dissenters, banned peaceful protests, and censored the media.”

Thailand’s military junta has used its unchecked powers to drop the country into an ever-deeper abyss of human rights abuses.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In August, authorities charged veteran journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk and two prominent politicians – Pichai Naripthaphan and Watana Muangsook – with sedition and violating the Computer-Related Crime Act for their Facebook commentaries about Thailand’s political and economic problems. Many critics of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta were ordered to undergo “attitude adjustment” programs in military barracks. In November, government security forces forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest in Songkhla province and stopped protesters from submitting a petition to the government against the construction of a coal-fired power plant. At least 16 protest leaders were arrested.

During the year the authorities temporarily forced off the air Voice TV, Spring News Radio, Peace TV, and TV24 for criticizing military rule. The stations were permitted to resume broadcasting after they agreed to practice self-censorship.

As head of the junta, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha wields limitless authority, including the military’s power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. There are still at least 1,800 civilians facing prosecution in military courts, which do not meet international fair trial standards.

Since the 2014 coup, Thai authorities have arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) charges. The crackdown on lese majeste offenses has intensified since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016. In August, the Khon Kaen provincial court sentenced prominent student activist Jatupat (Pai) Boonphatthararaksa to 30 months in prison for posting on his Facebook page a critical BBC Thai profile of Thailand’s new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

In February, the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) suspended its consideration of the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill, which would make torture and enforced disappearance criminal offenses in accordance with Thailand’s treaty obligations. The government has not clarified whether the bill will be reintroduced.

There still has been no justice for past human rights violations, such as the 2003 “war on drugs” and the 2010 dispersal of street protests. Nor have any security personnel been criminally prosecuted for abuses in the southern border provinces, where separatist insurgents have also committed numerous abuses against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.

“Prime Minister Prayuth’s empty promises cannot justify a return to business as usual with Thailand,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the junta to immediately end repression, respect fundamental rights, and return the country to democratic civilian rule.”