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Thailand: Drop Charges Against Opposition Leader

Election Commission Seeks 10-Year Prison Term for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit arrives for a press conference at the party's headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, March 25, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
(New York) – Thai authorities should drop politically motivated criminal charges against the leader of the dissolved opposition Future Forward Party, Human Rights Watch said today. The United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, and other governments should call on the Thai authorities to drop the charges and the arbitrary ban on the Future Forward Party.

On March 10, 2020, Thailand’s Election Commission decided to seek criminal action against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for “applying to be a member of the House of Representatives candidate knowing he was not qualified” under section 151 of the 2018 Organic Act on the Election of Members of the House of Representatives. If found guilty of holding shares in a media company when he filed his candidacy for the March 2019 general elections, Thanathorn faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to 200,000 baht (US$6,300), and a 20-year ban from politics.  

“Since the Constitutional Court wrongfully dissolved the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn has faced a barrage of arbitrary legal actions from agencies packed with military junta-appointed personnel,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By eliminating opposition parties and threatening their leaders with prison terms, the Thai government is heading down the path of neighboring countries where autocratic, single-party rule has thoroughly destroyed any pretense of democracy or respect for human rights.”

Thanathorn was elected in the March 2019 general elections and pitched by the Future Forward Party as a prime minister candidate. The Future Forward Party, which was Thailand’s third largest political party garnered more than six million votes in the first general elections since the 2014 military coup, called for fundamental political and military reforms. The party gained significant support from young voters and marginalized groups long ignored by the political mainstream.

In a politically motivated case, in November 2019, Thailand’s Constitutional Court disqualified Thanathorn’s membership in the House of Representatives. The court ruled that he still held shares in V-Luck Media Co. Ltd when the Future Forward Party submitted its candidates list to the Election Commission. The Election Commission is now using that ruling as the basis for instigating a criminal case against Thanathorn. 

In February 2020, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Future Forward Party using a politically motivated allegation that the party took an illegal loan from Thanathorn. It imposed a 10-year political ban on 16 of the party’s executive members. The ruling violated the rights of Future Forward Party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.

These actions have seriously weakened the political opposition in Thailand and benefitted Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and the ruling political coalition he leads.

Despite Thailand’s lack of significant progress toward respecting human rights and restoring democratic rule, there has been little concerted public reaction against the repression in the country by the United States, the European Union, or other countries.

“Democracy is under sustained attack and the world’s democracies have basically looked away because of their business, security, and intelligence relationships with Thailand,” Adams said. “This double standard should end. Governments and international agencies should call for all politically motivated charges against Thanathorn to be immediately dropped, the ban against Future Forward reversed, and an end to the persecution of dissenting voices.”

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