(Bangkok) – Thai authorities should immediately drop the charges and release pro-democracy activists detained for insulting the monarchy (lese majeste), Human Rights Watch said today.
Two of the activists, Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom and Nutthanit “Bai Por” Duangmusit, have been on a hunger strike since June 2, 2022 to protest their pretrial detention at Bangkok’s Central Women Correctional Institution. Pending their release, they should immediately be transferred to a hospital where they can receive appropriate medical attention. On July 18, the two activists collapsed during a witness examination at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court due to severe stomach pains and fatigue.
“Thai authorities should drop the politically motivated cases against Netiporn, Nutthanit, and others charged for their peaceful protests to reform the monarchy,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government is harshly punishing these activists by unnecessarily holding them in prolonged pretrial detention instead of releasing them prior to trial.”
Netiporn, 26, and Nutthanit, 20, who are affiliated with the pro-democracy Thalu Wang group, have regularly advocated reforming the monarchy. The authorities have charged them with various criminal offenses, including lese majeste, for conducting a public opinion poll on February 8 about royal motorcades. Since May 3, the authorities have held them in pretrial detention, and that detention has been repeatedly extended.
Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code makes lese majeste punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The number of lese majeste cases in Thailand has significantly increased in the past year, Human Rights Watch said. After almost a three-year hiatus in which lese majeste cases were not brought before the courts, in November 2020 the prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, ordered the authorities to restore lese majeste prosecutions, ostensibly because of growing criticisms of the monarchy. Since then, officials have charged more than 200 people with lese majeste crimes in relation to various activities at pro-democracy rallies or comments on social media.
Holding those charged with lese majeste in pretrial detention violates their rights under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, encourages bail for criminal suspects. Article 9 states, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” Those whose charges have not been dropped should be tried without undue delay, Human Rights Watch said.
The ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression. General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, states that laws such as those for lese majeste “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned” and that governments “should not prohibit criticism of institutions.”
“The Thai government should permit peaceful expression of all viewpoints, including questions about the monarchy,” Sifton said. “The authorities in Thailand should engage with United Nations experts and others about amending the lese majeste law to bring it into compliance with international human rights standards.”