The ICJ welcomes Thailand’s decision to drop spurious criminal defamation complaints against three prominent human rights defenders who had raised allegations of torture by security forces in Thailand’s restive deep South.
“It’s good news that the Thai military has dropped these unfounded complaints, but these charges should never have been brought. Thailand should now ensure the allegations of torture and ill-treatment are independently and effectively investigated,” said Sam Zarifi, the ICJ’s Asia Director.
“Thailand should also work to repair the considerable damage that was caused to alleged victims of torture and civil society who have been intimidated into silence by the prosecutions,” Zarifi continued.
On 10 February 2016, three Thai organizations, the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Duay Jai Group (Hearty Support Group), and the Patani Human Rights Organization (HAP), issued a report that documented 54 cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment by the Thai security forces in the deep South since 2004.
In response, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) brought criminal defamation complaints against the three co-editors, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (Director of the CrCF), Mr. Somchai Homlaor (Senior legal advisor to CrCF and Hearty Support Group), and Ms. Anchana Heemmina (founder and Director of the Hearty Support Group).
On 26 July 2016, the Thai police charged the three human rights defenders with criminal defamation by means of publication under Article 326 and 328 of the Penal Code, and importing false information to a computer system under Article 14 (1) of the Computer-Related Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2007).
The ICJ has been concerned by the abuse of criminal laws, including the already problematic criminal defamation law, as a means of effectively silencing human rights defenders.
“Thailand should now drop other outstanding criminal complaints against human rights defenders, including the complaint of sedition made against human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri, and ensure that they are protected from retaliation,” Zarifi said. “We look forward to the ISOC following through on its commitment to working with civil society to end torture and ill-treatment and bring any perpetrators to justice.”
On 7 March 2017, the ISOC 4 Forward Command – created to resolve the situation in the deep South – and the three human rights defenders, held a joint press conference.
The ISOC 4 Forward Command announced the ISOC will drop the complaints, citing the need for authorities and NGOs to work together collaboratively to address alleged human rights violations. ISOC 4 Forward Command also announced the establishment of a “joint fact-finding committee” which will be made up of officials and NGOs to look into allegations of human rights violations and to explore preventative measures.
The dropping of the charges occurs against the backdrop of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) referring a draft law criminalizing torture and enforced disappearance back to the Cabinet, effectively delaying its passage indefinitely, despite Thailand’s repeated assurances on the international stage that it will pass the law in the near future.
On 13 and 14 March 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee will review Thailand’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a State Party.
In a joint submission to the Committee, the ICJ and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) called for an end to the legal harassment of human rights defenders and for all allegations of torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance to be independently, impartially, and effectively investigated.
Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, ICJ, email: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org or mobile: +66 94 470 1345
Thailand-HRD dropped charges-news-2017-THA (Statement in Thai, PDF)