(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop criminal charges against 39 activists who peacefully protested military rule at a rally in Bangkok on January 27, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. If convicted, seven activists charged with sedition face up to seven years in prison.
“By prosecuting activists for peacefully protesting military rule, Thailand’s junta shows just how unwilling it is to ease its political repression,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “With each arbitrary charge against dissenters and critics, the junta makes a mockery of its promises to restore democracy to Thailand.”
On January 29, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta filed police complaints against seven prominent pro-democracy activists for sedition and violating the junta’s ban on public assembly for their protest outside the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center: Sirawit Seritiwat, Sukrid Peansuwan, Nutta Mahattana, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, Ekachai Hongkangwan, Arnon Nampa, and Rangsiman Rome. They had called on the junta to lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms and hold an election by November 2018, as previously pledged by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha.
The authorities also accused the seven activists, along with 32 other protesters, of violating the 2015 Public Assembly Act, which prohibits an assembly within the radius of 150 meters from the boundary of the Royal Residence – in this case, Sra Prathum Palace. All are scheduled to report to Pathumwan Police Station to acknowledge the charges on February 2.
In addition to the charges for sedition under article 116 of the Penal Code, the seven activists face an additional six-month prison term and a fine of up to 10,000 baht (US$312) if found guilty of violating the NCPO’s public assembly ban. All 39 charged under the Public Assembly Act face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 baht (US$312).
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Since the May 2014 coup, the Thai junta has repeatedly harassed and prosecuted people for their speech, writings, online commentary, and other criticisms of military rule. The junta has banned political gatherings of more than five people. Authorities have also arrested hundreds of people for organizing or taking part in such public gatherings. The junta has frequently treated people who express dissenting views and call for a return to democratic civilian rule as threats to national security. Since the military took power, authorities have prosecuted at least 40 people under the draconian sedition statute.
Despite General Prayut’s repeated public promises to restore democratic rule, hold an election, and implement the so-called “national human rights agenda,” repression continues with no end in sight, Human Rights Watch said.
In January, the United States and the European Union publicly urged General Prayut to lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms, restore respect for human rights, and keep his pledge to hold an election in November.
“General Prayut and the military junta have become further entrenched in power with each passing day, and the Thai people are paying the price with the loss of their basic rights,” Adams said. “The US, EU and other concerned governments need to urgently press the junta end repression, restore respect for basic rights, and return Thailand to democratic civilian rule.”