Today the ICJ called on Thai prosecutorial authorities to immediately end the prosecution of five persons associated with academic activities in Chiang Mai. The five have been made subject to prosecution solely for exercising their rights to free expression and assembly.
Those subject to prosecution include Pakawadee Veerapatpong, an independent writer and translator; Chaipong Samnieng, a PhD candidate at Chiang Mai University; Nontawat Machai, an undergraduate student at Chiang Mai University; Teeramon Bua-ngam, a Masters student at Chiang Mai University and news editor; and Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, a Professor at Chiang Mai University.
The ICJ also called for the revocation or amendment of all laws, orders and announcements inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations.
Today, the Region V Public Prosecutor in Chiang Mai province formally notified the five individuals that they would be prosecuted for violating HNCPO Order No. 3/2558 (2015) (‘HNCPO Order 3’) for merely expressing their opinions at an academic forum at Chiang Mai University in July 2017.
HNCPO Order 3 prohibits the gathering of five or more persons for political purposes, carrying a penalty of imprisonment not exceeding six months and/or a fine not exceeding 10,000 Baht.
“The ongoing and abusive use of HNCPO Order 3 to stifle free expression in Thailand remains indefensible and an obstacle to the full restoration of the rule of law in Thailand,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior Legal Adviser at the ICJ.
“The decision to indict these five individuals is clearly in breach of Thailand’s international human rights obligations and should be reversed immediately together with the termination of the proceedings and the revocation of HNCPO Order 3,” he added.
The Public Prosecutor’s decision to indict the five was made against a backdrop of recently increasing repression of fundamental freedoms in the country.
This year alone, at least 132 persons were reportedly charged under HNCPO Order 3 in 10 cases and six incidents in connection with a movement calling for elections to be held this year.
Twenty-seven of these individuals were also charged with a sedition-like offence, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.
Since the military coup of 22 May 2014, at least 378 persons have been reportedly charged in relation to 50 cases of violating the ban on political gatherings of five or more persons according to a report launched on 22 June 2018 by leading Thai NGO, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
In March and June 2018, at the Human Rights Council, the ICJ called on Thailand to revoke or amend all laws, orders and announcements that are contrary to the rule of law and human rights protections.
“Four years have passed since the military coup resulting in numerous unjustifiable restrictions on fundamental freedoms – it is long past time for Thailand to undertake reform necessary to prevent the legal system from being misused to harass individuals who merely exercise their human rights,” said Abbott.
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Region V Public Prosecutor’s decision in Chiang Mai province follows charges filed against the individuals by a military officer in 2017.
Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng and Nontawat Machai had allegedly held up three A4-sized messages which read “an academic forum is not a military barracks” at the academic conference.
Teeramon Bua-ngam had reportedly taken a picture of himself standing next to the messages and posted the same on social media.
Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti had reportedly watched the display of the messages without asking for them to be removed, despite being an organizer of the conference.
Thailand is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the ICCPR guarantee the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
Since the military coup, the ICJ has expressed its concern about the use of a new legal framework and pre-existing laws to clamp down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including criminal defamation (Articles 326-328 of the Thai Criminal Code), the Computer-Related Crime Act B.E.2550 (2007), a sedition-like offence (Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code), and HNCPO Order 3.
ICJ and TLHR Joint Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, 13 February 2017
ICJ and TLHR Joint Follow-up Submission to the Human Rights Committee, 27 March 2018
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