Thailand: stop use of defamation charges against human rights defenders seeking accountability for torture
Thailand’s government should immediately stop allowing criminal defamation laws to be used to harass victims and human rights defenders who seek justice for alleged incidents of torture, the ICJ said today.
Yesterday, the government charged three human rights defenders (Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homloar and Anchana Heemina, photo) under the criminal defamation provisions of the Penal Code and the Computer Crime Act, for publication of a report that documented 54 cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment by the Thai authorities in the country’s restive deep South since 2004.
“Thailand must repeal or revise its vague and broad criminal defamation laws to prevent them from being used to silence human rights defenders and journalists working on important public interest issues,” said Wilder Tayler, the ICJ’s Secretary General.
“The imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment or large fines under these laws has a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression – a right which is enshrined in treaties to which Thailand is a party and bound to uphold,” he added.
Also yesterday, the government used the same provisions to charge Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, the niece of an army conscript who was killed after being severely punished by soldiers on a military base.
Although the Thai government has formally acknowledged that the death was caused by torture and compensated the family, none of the perpetrators have been held accountable for the death of Private Wichian Puaksom and have only faced military disciplinary sanctions of 30 days of detention or less, the ICJ reminds.
The case against Ms Kaewnopparat was brought by a military officer who alleges she accused him of being involved in her uncle’s death in the context of the family’s efforts to seek justice.
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 and would forward it for approval to the National Legislative Assembly.
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.
“Prosecuting people who seek justice for alleged torture goes against the spirit of the proposed legislation,” Tayler said.
“Thai authorities have an obligation to investigate and ensure justice for incidents of torture, but instead they are harassing and intimidating those responsible for exposing these horrendous acts.”
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.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Thailand-HRDs defamation charges-News-Press releases-2016-ENG (full text of press release in English, PDF)
Thailand-HRDs defamation charges-News-Press releases-2016-THA (full text of press release in Thai, PDF)NewsPress releases