(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop the charges and release two democracy activists detained for criticizing the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today.
Orawan Phuphong and Tantawan Tuatulanon have been detained since January 16, 2023, after appearing in court to revoke their own bail. They revoked their bail to demand the release on bail of other political activists, and adoption of judicial and legal reforms, including revocation of laws on lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) and sedition. On January 18 they began a hunger strike – refusing food and water – in Bangkok’s Central Women’s Correctional Institution to protest what they considered to be unjust pretrial detention of critics of the monarchy. On January 20, the two activists collapsed, and the authorities transferred them to the Corrections Department Hospital.
“The Thai government should drop the unjust cases against Orawan, Tantawan, and others charged for their peaceful protests demanding reforms to the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Holding these activists in pretrial detention for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and cruel.”
The authorities have charged Orawan and Tantawan with various criminal offenses, including lese majeste, for conducting public opinion surveys about royal motorcades.
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 Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha ordered officials to resume lese majeste prosecutions, ostensibly because of growing criticism 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, Human Rights Watch said. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, 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.”
“The Thai government should permit peaceful expression of all viewpoints, including questions about the monarchy,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should engage with United Nations experts and others about amending the lese majeste law to bring it into compliance with international human rights law obligations.”