In this January 11, 2018, photo, activist Ekachai Hongkangwan shows his watches during a demonstration highlighting the corruption allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan in front of Government House. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
(New York) – Thai authorities should urgently and impartially investigate renewed threats and attacks against prominent pro-democracy activist Ekachai Hongkangwan and other activists, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 1, 2019, at about 1 a.m., unidentified arsonists torched Ekachai’s car outside his house in Bangkok’s Lad Phrao district. The attack came a day after Ekachai led a protest calling for impeaching the Election Commission for allegedly helping junta leader Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha remain in power after Thailand’s general election on March 24. In another case, on the evening of March 31, two unidentified assailants beat another activist, Anurak Jeantawanich, after breaking into his house in Samut Prakarn province. Anurak, who was at the same protest as Ekachai, suffered minor injuries.

“The environment for Thailand’s pro-democracy activists appears to be taking a turn for the worse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s crucial for Thai authorities to fully investigate these incidents, bring the attackers to justice, and act promptly to end the deepening climate of fear.”

For more than a year, Ekachai has been repeatedly targeted by what appear to be reprisals for his strong public criticisms of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, including:

  • January 19, 2018: Krairit Chaiwanasat assaulted Ekachai outside the Government House while Ekachai was speaking to the media about alleged corruption linked to Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan’s collection of luxury watches. Ekachai escaped unharmed. Krairit was arrested, charged with illegal possession of a knife, and fined 1,000 baht (US$31). 
  • January 23, 2018: Krairit attacked Ekachai for a second time. Ekachai was punched in the face near his house after returning from a protest outside the Government House after again alleging corruption related to General Prawit’s luxury watch collection. Police charged Krairit with assault, and fined him 10,000 baht ($310).
  • August 14, 2018: An unidentified assailant splashed Ekachai with fermented fish at a bus stop near the Government House while he was heading to stage a protest about the alleged corruption related to General Prawit’s luxury watch collection.
  • August 22, 2018: Three unidentified attackers hit Ekachai with wooden sticks, breaking several fingers, near his house as he was returning from a protest outside the Government House. Police arrested Kamthorn Thammakhan, but have not been able to identify the other two. There has been no reported progress in the police investigation.
  • January 19, 2019: Four attackers punched and kicked Ekachai near Thammasat University after he returned from a protest demanding that the government should hold elections without further delay. There has been no reported progress in the police investigation.
  • January 26, 2019: Attackers set Ekachai’s car on fire outside his house. There has been no reported progress in the police investigation.
  • March 5, 2019: An assailant hit Ekachai with a wooden stick, injuring his arm and head after he went to the Public Health Ministry to report the alleged use of hate speech and incitement of violence by a pro-junta medical worker. There has been no reported progress in the police investigation.

The attacks and the failure of the police to bring most of those responsible to justice heightens concerns for Ekachai’s safety, Human Rights Watch said. Ekachai has filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Justice Ministry’s Department of Rights and Liabilities Protection, but Thai authorities have not taken effective steps to protect him from further violence.

Thai authorities have an obligation to ensure that anyone engaged in protecting and promoting human rights can work in a safe and enabling environment, Human Rights Watch said. Instead of recognizing the important work of activists in protecting human rights, promoting democracy, and uncovering corruption, Thai authorities have subjected them to countless rights violations and tried to deter them from exercising their rights to liberty, expression, and association. The Thai junta continues to prosecute its critics under the sedition law and the Computer-Related Crime Act. Since the May 2014 coup, the junta has summoned hundreds of politicians, activists, and anyone deemed to oppose military rule for “attitude adjustment” sessions to compel them to stop expressing dissenting opinions.

“The frequency of these attacks and lack of consequences for perpetrators suggest that the Thai government is turning a blind eye to them – or worse,” Adams said. “The government should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against activists and critics while adopting concrete measures to ensure that activists can safely exercise their rights without fear of reprisals.”