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A pro-democracy protester flashes a three-finger salute during a protest against the government near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, October 13, 2020. © 2020 REUTERS/Panu Wongcha-um

(Bangkok) – The Thai authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release democracy activists arrested for peacefully protesting in Bangkok on October 13, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today.

At approximately 3:40 p.m., police forcibly dispersed a pro-democracy protest organized by the People’s Group at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. Police kicked, punched, and threw some protesters to the ground. Some protesters threw paint at police who were arresting them. The police charged those arrested with intent to cause violence, using loudspeakers without permission, and several other offenses.

“The Thai government’s breakup of a peaceful democracy protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument just proved the protesters’ point,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The charges against the protesters should be dropped and they should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Police arrested 21 of the approximately 200 protesters, including the protest leader, Jatuphat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa. The protesters were being detained for interrogation at the 1st Region Border Patrol Police Camp in Pathumthani province, north of Bangkok. The police have prevented lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights from meeting with the arrested activists.

Police arrest activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, October 13, 2020. ©2020 AP Photo

Since July 18, youth-led coalitions have organized peaceful protests across Thailand calling for the dissolution of Parliament, a new constitution, and an end to authorities harassing people who exercise their right to freedom of expression. Some of the protests later included demands for reform of the institution of the monarchy to limit the king’s powers.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha recently dropped his previous pledge to listen to dissenting voices and adopted a more hostile stance toward pro-democracy protests. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has reported that at least 65 protesters face illegal assembly charges for holding peaceful protests in Bangkok and other provinces. Some protest leaders have also been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, for making demands regarding reform of the monarchy.

International human rights law, reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Thai authorities have routinely censored and halted public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Since the military coup in 2014, the authorities have prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views.

The Thai government’s hostility to the exercise of civil and political rights has intensified over the past five months as authorities have imposed draconian state of emergency measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities have increasingly used those measures as a pretext to ban anti-government rallies and harass pro-democracy activists, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Democracy Monument arrests raise serious concerns that the government will impose even harsher repression of people’s fundamental freedoms in Thailand,” Adams said. “Thailand’s international friends should call on the government to stop arresting peaceful protesters, listen to their views, and allow them to freely and safely express their visions for the future.”

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