The Royal Thai Government must immediately end its harassment and intimidation of human rights lawyer, Sirikan Charoensiri, the ICJ said today.
Sirikan Charoensiri (photo), a lawyer with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), has been providing 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.
Since then, the Royal Thai Police have threatened Sirikan Charoensiri with legal action, publically announced they are considering charging her with a crime, and visited her home and questioned her family.
“The government must immediately end its harassment and intimidation of human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri,” said Matt Pollard, Head of the ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers in Geneva. “The case against her clients clearly violates Thailand’s obligations under international law, and cannot be a valid basis for the police to take any action against her for defending their rights.”
On 30 June 2015, the ICJ met in Geneva with staff members of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, in order to bring Sirikan Charoensiri’s case to their attention.
“The ICJ has been repeatedly warning of Thailand’s steady slide away from open democracy and the rule of law,” added Pollard. “These actions of the police, targeting peacefully protesting students with prosecution in a military court, and then targeting the lawyer who comes to their defence, underscores the urgent need to restore respect for human rights in Thailand.”
Matt Pollard, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, t: +41 22 979 38 12, e: matt.pollard(a)icj.org
The 14 students were arrested during the evening of 26 June 2015 and were brought to a police station in Bangkok and then to the Bangkok Military Court for a hearing on pre-trial detention, which proceeded until midnight.
The students have been charged with violating order 3/2015 of the National Council for Peace and Order (which prohibits the public assembly of more than five people for political purposes) and a ‘sedition’-type offence under section 116 of Thai Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.
Upon hearing of the students’ arrest, Sirikan Charoensiri and three other lawyers drove in her car to the Bangkok Military Court in order to provide legal aid to the students.
Following the hearing and during the early morning of 27 June 2015, the police asked Sirikan Charoensiri for her permission to search her car for the student’s phones, without a warrant. She refused to consent to the warrantless search. As a result, the Police impounded her car, which contained the lawyers’ case files and personal computers, and five phones belonging to the students.
At 12:45pm, Sirikan Charoensiri went to the police station to file a complaint of malfeasance regarding the seizure of her car. The police refused to accept the complaint and in the meantime another police team searched her car with a warrant. Five phones belonging to the students were seized as evidence.
At 18:00pm, Sirikan Charoensiri again attempted to file a complaint at the police station for malfeasance. A senior investigator told her that the police had power to search her car and suggested that if she filed a complaint, it would not finish there and that the police would consider countering with some form of legal action against her. The police finally accepted the complaint at 11:00pm.
On 28 June 2015, a senior police officer told the media that they had found “important evidence” in Sirikan Charoensiri’s car and are considering whether to charge her with a crime.
On 29 June 2015, the police visited Sirikan Charoensiri’s family home and asked her parents to identify her in photos and questioned them about her background.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State Party, guarantees the right to peaceful assembly; the right to freedom of expression; the prohibition of arbitrary arrest or detention and 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.
Sirikan Charoensiri formerly served as a National Legal Consultant with the ICJ.
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