(New York) – Thailand’s human rights agenda will be meaningless until the government fulfills its repeated pledges to respect basic rights and restore democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 12, 2018, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha hosted an event at the Government House in Bangkok to promote the national human rights agenda, which was adopted in November. Hundreds of guests, including 55 foreign diplomats and representatives from international and multilateral organizations, attended.
“Thailand’s junta leader should not think that polite attendance by diplomats at an event promoting a human rights agenda will trick them into believing that repression is no longer a daily reality in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Rather than restoring respect for human rights and returning the country to democratic rule, the junta has persecuted critics and dissidents, banned peaceful public assembly, censored the media, and suppressed free speech.”
At the event, General Prayuth spoke about the government’s “4+3+2+1” agenda for promoting respect for human rights and creating peace in society. The agenda consists of creating awareness, a follow-up system, innovation, and networks; adjusting databases, attitudes, and legislation; mobilizing government agencies to implement the human rights agenda; and reducing human rights abuses.
The junta has made similar promises since the May 2014 coup without taking serious action. General Prayuth continues to wield broad and unaccountable powers without any oversight. The junta-sponsored constitution, in effect since March 2017, ensures that members of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will not be held accountable for any rights violations committed since taking power. It also prolongs substantial military control of the government even after an election that the junta promises to hold in 2018.
Since the coup, the NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize military rule. Media outlets face intimidation, punishment, and closure if they publicize commentaries critical of the junta and the monarchy or raise issues the NCPO considers to be sensitive to national security – including reporting allegations against the military about human rights violations. Most recently, on February 6, Peace TV was forced off the air for 15 days for criticizing military rule.
Thai authorities have prosecuted hundreds of critics and dissidents on criminal charges such as sedition and computer-related crimes for the peaceful expression of opinions. Public gatherings of more than five people and anti-coup activities are prohibited. The authorities charged 39 pro-democracy activists with illegal assembly for attending a peaceful rally on January 27, which urged the government to meet its pledge to hold elections in 2018. Nine also face sedition charges for giving speeches at the rally.
Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop making political comments, especially when citing disagreements with the junta. Claiming that diverse political opinions are harmful to stability, the NCPO has frequently censored public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand under military rule.
The military frequently holds people accused of criminal offenses pertaining to national security in secret detention for up to seven days without charge and interrogates them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.
The government has failed to fulfill its obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment. In recent years, government agencies along with private companies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of human rights abuses by filing criminal defamation charges and seeking prosecution for alleged computer crimes.
On February 7, 14 Burmese migrant workers were brought to court on defamation charges for filing complaints about labor rights abuses against their employers with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand. On February 9, the 4th Army Region – in charge of Thailand’s southern border provinces – filed a civil defamation complaint seeking Thai baht 10 million (US$286,000) in damages from MGR Online news for its reports alleging torture of a suspected insurgent in military custody.
“Despite the adoption of a so-called ‘national human rights agenda,’ there is no end in sight for military dictatorship as the ruling junta continues its crackdown on fundamental freedoms and delays a return to civilian rule,” Adams said. “Pressure from Thailand’s friends is urgently needed to end repression and restore respect for basic human rights.”