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A protester with a placard stands in front of riot police while making a three-finger salute during a pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17, 2022. © 2022 Sipa via AP Images

(Jakarta) – The Thai government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha pursued politically motivated prosecutions of more than 1,500 human rights and democracy activists and others in 2022 for exercising their basic rights and freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2023. The authorities have not dropped thousands of criminal cases related to the Covid-19 ban on public gatherings, which was lifted in October.

“The Thai authorities are jailing more and more people who express dissenting views, violently dispersing peaceful protests, and censoring news and social media,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thailand’s foreign partners should not return to business as usual without securing firm commitments from the Prayut government to respect human rights and democratic principles.”

In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries. In her introductory essay, acting Executive Director Tirana Hassan says that in a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights. The world’s mobilization around Russia’s war in Ukraine reminds us of the extraordinary potential when governments realize their human rights obligations on a global scale. The responsibility is on individual countries, big and small, to apply a human rights framework to their policies, and then work together to protect and promote human rights.

The Thai government routinely enforced censorship, blocking and punishing opinions deemed critical of the monarchy and the government. Over 200 people are currently charged with lèse-majesté under the penal code, which sets out draconian penalties for “insulting the monarchy.” The authorities also frequently charged political activists with sedition and violations of the Computer Crimes Act, which provides officials with wide powers to prosecute online expression.

The government disregarded its obligations under international law to protect refugees and asylum seekers by arresting and deporting them to their countries of origin – including Myanmar, Cambodia, China, and Vietnam – where their lives and freedom are at risk.

Human rights defenders in Thailand remain at risk of assault and retaliatory lawsuits. The government has made little progress in investigating physical attacks, enforced disappearances, and killing of activists. The authorities continued to push for passage of a law to control civil society organizations that would severely violate rights to freedom of association and expression.

Effective enforcement remained a concern for the newly passed Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act, which took effect in October.

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