(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately drop charges and release a 15-year-old student activist detained for allegedly defaming the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 28, 2023, the police arrested Thanalop “Yok” Phalanchai in Bangkok and accused her of committing lèse-majesté (insulting the monarchy) offenses for criticizing the monarchy during a rally in October 2022 in front of the Bangkok City Hall. At the rally, protesters called for the release of political detainees and for the abolition of royal defamation prosecutions. Thanalop is being held in pretrial detention at the Justice Ministry’s Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Center for Girls in Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok, for allegedly violating article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“Thai authorities should immediately release Thanalop and drop the unjust case against her for criticizing the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By arresting a 15-year-old girl, the Thai government is sending the spine-chilling message that even children aren’t safe from being harshly punished for expressing their opinions.”
The number of lèse-majesté cases in Thailand has significantly increased in the past year, Human Rights Watch said. After almost a three-year hiatus in which lèse-majesté cases were not brought before the courts, in November 2020 Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha ordered the authorities to restore lèse-majesté prosecutions, ostensibly because of growing criticisms of the monarchy. Since then, the authorities have charged more than 200 people with lèse-majesté crimes, primarily for actions at pro-democracy rallies or comments on social media.
Human Rights Watch and several United Nations human rights monitoring bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have repeatedly voiced concern over the Thai government’s use of arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention to punish critics of the monarchy for their views.
Holding those charged with lèse-majesté in pretrial detention violates their rights under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, encourages bail for criminal suspects. Article 9 states that, “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 Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Thailand, states that the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child “shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Lèse-majesté prosecutions also raise serious freedom of expression concerns under the ICCPR. General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, states that laws such as those for lèse-majesté “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 political views, including questions about the monarchy,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should engage with UN experts and others about amending the lèse-majesté law to bring it into compliance with international human rights standards.”