The ICJ today called on the Royal Thai Government to immediately drop criminal proceedings against human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri.
On 2 February 2016, Sirikan Charoensiri received two summons to appear at the Chanasongkram Police Station on 9 February 2016 to be charged with two offences under the Criminal Code of Thailand: “giving false information regarding a criminal offence” and “refusing to comply with the order of an official”.
Such charges could result in punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment.
“The charges against Sirikan Charoensiri apparently relate to her efforts to protect the legal and human rights of her clients, students who never should have faced arrest or criminal proceedings for peacefully exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly in the first place,” said Matt Pollard of the ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
“Prosecuting Sirikan Charoensiri for her efforts to defend human rights is totally unacceptable and will only put Thailand further in violation of its international obligations,” he added.
The charges appear to relate to the circumstances surrounding Sirikan Charoensiri’s provision of legal aid to 14 students who were arrested on 26 June 2015 after carrying out peaceful protests calling for democracy and an end to military rule.
Although the precise basis for the changes is not set out in the summonses, the complainant is named as Pol. Col. Suriya Chamnongchok, a police officer involved in the investigation of the 14 students.
Sirikan Charoensiri, a lawyer with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), has provided legal aid to many individuals, including activists and human rights defenders, since military rule was imposed in May 2014.
The ICJ first expressed concern about the Government’s targeting of Sirikan Charoensiri on 2 July 2015, after the Royal Thai Police threatened Sirikan Charoensiri with legal action, publically announced they were considering charging her with a crime, and visited her home and questioned her family.
These threats and harassment, like the currently pending charges, appeared to be in retaliation for her having refused consent for police to search her car after the students’ court hearing, and for having filed a complaint with the police when they proceeded to impound it.
The ICJ has brought the case to the attention of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
The situation of human rights in Thailand will be examined by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2016, as part of the Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all States.
“Ahead of Thailand’s human rights review by the United Nations in May, and against the background of the tabled ‘roadmap’ towards democratic rule, the need for the Royal Thai Government to restore respect for human rights only grows more urgent by the day,” said Pollard.
In Bangkok: Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 94 470 1345 ; e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org
In Geneva: Matt Pollard, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +41 22 979 38 12 ; e: matt.pollard(a)icj.org
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a Party, guarantees the right to peaceful assembly; the right to freedom of expression; the prohibition of arbitrary arrest or detention; the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law (including the right of prompt access to a lawyer and precluding jurisdiction of military courts over civilians in circumstances such as these); and the prohibition of arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence (which includes arbitrary searches or seizures).
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the right of everyone peacefully to oppose human rights violations. It prohibits retaliation, threats and other harassment against anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties. It protects the right of persons to file formal complaints about alleged violations of rights. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that governments are to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.
Thailand-Sirikan Charoensiri-News-Press releases-2016-THA (full text in PDF, Thai)