(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release 14 pro-democracy activists who peacefully expressed opposition to military rule, Human Rights Watch said today. The 14 are charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, and violating the military junta’s ban on political gatherings of more than five people.
“The arrest of peaceful democracy activists calling for free and fair elections shows that Thailand’s military junta has no intention of easing its oppressive rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Gagging peaceful public protests makes a mockery of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s self-proclaimed commitment to return Thailand to democracy.”
On May 22, 2018, a peaceful rally was held in front of the United Nations compound in Bangkok to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 military coup. Police broke up the rally and arrested leaders and members of the “We Want Election” movement after they read a statement calling for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms and hold promised elections.
The 14 pro-democracy activists being held at Phayathai Police Station and Chanasongkram Police Station in Bangkok are: Nuttaa Mahattana, Chonthicha Jangrew, Anon Numpa, Rangsiman Rome, Sirawith Seritiwat, Piyarat Chongthep, Ekachai Hongkangwan, Chokchai Paiboonratchata, Kiri Khanthong, Putthaising Pimchan, Roj Trong-ngarmrak, Viset Sangkhavisit, Pattarapol Jankot, and Prasong Wangwan.
International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But since the May 2014 coup, the junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited. Thousands have been summoned and pressured to stop making political comments against the junta.
International pressure is urgently needed to press for a speedy transition to civilian democratic rule in Thailand.
“With each new politically motivated arrest, Thailand’s path toward democracy is fading,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the junta to set a firm date for elections and allow people and political parties to organize and express their visions for the future of the country.”