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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha attends a news conference as the junta marked the third anniversary of a military coup in Bangkok, Thailand May 23, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters/Jorge Silva
(New York) – Thailand’s military junta should immediately lift restrictions on civil and political rights so that upcoming national elections can be free and fair, Human Rights Watch said today. The laws on the election of members of parliament and selection of senators were announced in the Royal Gazette on September 12, 2018, paving the way for an election between February and May 2019.

Current laws, policies, and practices of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power in May 2014, do not permit political parties to freely organize, express their views, or campaign. As a result, Thailand does not yet have an environment for free and fair elections.

“With an election approaching after four years of military rule, Thailand’s junta needs to fully return democratic freedoms to the Thai people and ensure political parties can participate fully in the process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should rescind restrictive orders and restore freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

The Thai junta retains unchecked power with total impunity for human rights violations. Over the past four years, authorities have routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about human rights and democracy. The government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peaceful expression of their views.

Public gatherings of more than five people are prohibited. The authorities have summoned thousands of people and pressured them to stop criticizing the junta. The military arbitrarily arrests and detains people suspected of opposing the junta, holding them for up to seven days without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment.

Since the beginning of 2018, more than 100 pro-democracy activists have faced illegal assembly – and in some cases sedition – charges for peacefully pressing the junta to hold promised elections without further delay and to lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

Local activists expressed concerns to Human Rights Watch that independent monitoring of elections will not be possible under current conditions. Thai authorities frequently retaliate with criminal charges, including for criminal defamation and Computer-Related Crime Act violations, against anyone who reports allegations of state-sponsored abuses and official misconduct. The junta forcibly blocked efforts to monitor the constitutional referendum in 2016 and prosecuted many people involved in such activities.

After the 2014 military coup, the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan, and many other countries made clear that bilateral relations could not be fully restored until Thailand held free and fair elections to establish a democratic civilian government and improved its respect for human rights. To ensure that the upcoming election will be a genuine democratic process, the United Nations and Thailand’s friends should press the junta to:

  • End the use of abusive, unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;
  • End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;
  • Lift the ban on political activities;
  • Free everyone detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;
  • Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;
  • Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards;
  • Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping politically motivated lawsuits against them; and
  • Permit independent and impartial election observers to freely monitor the election campaign and the conduct of the elections, and issue public reports.

“The UN and Thailand’s allies should publicly state that they will only recognize an election that meets international standards,” Adams said. “A vote cannot be free and fair when the basic democratic rights of the Thai people are being suppressed.”

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