(New York) – Authorities in Thailand should urgently and impartially investigate repeated attacks on prominent pro-democracy activists, Human Rights Watch said today.
In the past year, unidentified assailants have on several occasions, including twice in May 2019, attacked Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich and Ekachai Hongkangwan in and around Bangkok. In almost all of these attacks, Thai police have not arrested any suspects, raising concerns about possible government involvement in the violence.
“The Thai police’s failure to arrest those responsible for the repeated assaults on well-known critics of the junta suggests authorities are turning a blind eye to these crimes,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Credible investigations are needed to bring the perpetrators to justice, whatever their status and affiliation.”
On May 25, at about 7 a.m., six unidentified men on motorcycles attacked Anurak as he was riding his motorcycle near his house in Samut Prakarn province, south of Bangkok. The assailants knocked him and his motorcycle over, and as he tried to get up, they rammed their motorcycles into his back. They then hit him many times with metal bars, injuring him on his head, face, arms, and legs.
The attack came a day after Anurak announced on his Facebook page that he would lead a rally to protest the selection of the House of Representatives’ speaker, which he alleged was part of a conspiracy to help Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha retain power. Previously, two unidentified men broke into Anurak’s house on March 31 and beat him up. That attack came shortly after he attended a protest alleging collusion between the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order, and the Election Commission of Thailand to manipulate the national election held on March 24.
On May 13, four unidentified assailants beat Ekachai outside the Bangkok Criminal Court building, breaking his hand and ribs. Over the course of more than a year, Ekachai has been attacked at least nine times. He has frequently and publicly criticized the military government.
Thai authorities have not fulfilled their obligation to ensure that everyone engaged in protecting and promoting human rights in Thailand can do so in a safe and enabling environment. Ekachai filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Justice Ministry’s Department of Rights and Liabilities Protection, but authorities have not taken effective steps to protect him from further violence.
Since the military coup in May 2014, the Thai junta has harassed, threatened, and prosecuted peaceful pro-democracy activists in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. In addition, over the past five years, the junta has summoned hundreds of politicians, activists, and others deemed to oppose military rule for “attitude adjustment” sessions to compel them to stop expressing dissenting opinions.
Activists who have fled Thailand to escape political persecution have also been at grave risk. In Laos, unidentified assailants abducted at least five Thai exiles; three were found murdered and two others remain missing. In May, Vietnam allegedly forcibly returned three activists to Thailand who have since gone missing.
“Thai authorities should act promptly to end attacks against activists and reverse the deepening climate of fear faced by critics of the government,” Adams said. “Officials need to take concrete measures to ensure the protection of dissidents and pro-democracy activists.”