The Thai military must immediately withdraw its abusive criminal complaints against three leading human rights defenders for raising allegations of torture in Thailand’s restive deep South, said the ICJ today.
“It is simply astonishing that the Thai government is lodging these complaints at a time when Thailand has just promised to adopt important anti-torture legislation and has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Regional Director.
“The military must immediately withdraw its complaints and instead ensure all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and effectively investigated in line with Thailand’s international legal obligations,” he added.
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 authorities in the deep South since 2004.
On 17 May 2016, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, responsible for national security operations in the Southern Border Provinces, responded to the report by filing complaints of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2007) against the report’s three co-editors, Somchai Homlaor and Pornpen Khongkachonkiet of CrCF, and Anchana Heemmina of Hearty Support Group.
Criminal defamation carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (USD $5,600). Violation of article 14(1) of the Computer Crime Act, carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or a fine of up to 100,000 Baht (USD $2,800), or both.
It is the second time since 2014 that the Thai military has filed criminal defamation complaints against Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Somchai Homlaor for raising allegations of torture in the deep South.
“The Thai military should also take heed of the recent decision of the Phuket Provincial Court in the Phuketwan case, which found that the Computer Crime Act was not intended to cover allegations of defamation,” said Zarifi.
On 1 September 2015, the Phuket Provincial Court acquitted two journalists of criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act after the Royal Thai Navy complained the journalists defamed it when, on 17 July 2013, the journalists reproduced a paragraph from a Pulitzer prize-winning Reuters article that alleged “Thai naval forces” were complicit in human trafficking.
The use of criminal defamation laws, carrying penalties of imprisonment, against human rights defenders reporting on alleged human violations, constitutes a violation of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party.
As affirmed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others:… freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
On 17 December 2015, Thailand joined 127 other states at the UN General Assembly in adopting a UN Resolution on human rights defenders. The Resolution calls upon states to refrain from intimidation or reprisals against human rights defenders.
Last month, Thailand informed the Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review that the Cabinet was considering a draft Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. It was reported that the Cabinet approved the draft law on 24 May 2016.
At the conclusion of the review, Thailand also adopted several recommendations to protect human rights defenders and investigate reported cases of intimidation, harassment and attacks against them.
The right to an effective remedy against torture and other ill-treatment and to have complaints promptly, fully and impartially investigated is guaranteed under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the ICCPR.
Thailand has an obligation under both treaties to conduct such investigations where there are allegations of torture and ill-treatment and to bring to justice those responsible in fair criminal proceedings.
Thailand was criticized in May 2014 for its failure to address violations when the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed its concern “at the numerous and consistent allegations of serious acts of reprisals and threats against human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and their relatives, including verbal and physical attacks, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, as well as by the lack of information provided on any investigations into such allegations.”
The Committee recommended that Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”
Sam Zarifi, Asia Regional Director, t: +66 80 781 9002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +66 94 470 1345; e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org
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