Thai rights defenders charged over torture report

Military officials in Thailand on July 26 charged three human rights defenders with criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act because of a report they published detailing acts of torture. The defenders, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor, face up to five years in prison if convicted. The report, "Torture and ill treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015", details 54 incidents of torture and rights abuses in South Thailand, and the activists hoped that it would encourage victims to share their experiences. Several rights groups have protested the arrests in a joint report (PDF), calling them a "reprisal against civil society groups seeking to bring to the authorities' attention the continued abuse of power and ill-treatment of detainees in Thailand." The report urges the government to drop all charges against the rights defenders and ensure that retaliation is not allowed, as well as making general human rights recommendations.

Human rights groups worldwide have expressed growing concern over violations in Thailand since the military junta came to power in May 2014. In March Human Rights Watch urged Thailand to stop harassing and charging right lawyers for defending victims of the government's abuses. Also in March the Pheu Thai Party filed a complaint with the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights over the detention of one of its key figures, Watana Muangsook, accusing the government of serious human rights violations. In January UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the Thai government to fully investigate the whereabouts of at least 82 people listed as disappeared, and to criminalize "forced disappearance" through legislation. That same month, Thailand unveiled a new draft constitution, which human rights groups stated was aimed at increasing the power of the military under the guise of clauses intended to promote national security but actually permitting officials to commit human rights abuses without fear of punishment.

From Jurist, July 27. Used with permission.

  1. Thailand approves military-drafted constitution

    A clear majority of Thai referendum voters have backed a draft constitution written by an army-appointed committee. Unofficial tallies show that 61.45% voted in favor. The military threw out the old constitution when it took power in 2014. Voters also supported a second measure allowing the appointed senate to select a prime minister. Turnout was about 55%, the election commission said—well below its target figure of 80%. (BBC News)

    "It adds that touch of legitimacy to the coup makers," Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto University in Japan, said after the referendum results were announced. "It gives them the green light for the next few steps they want to take. They will say the opposition cannot say anything now."

    Pavin, a Thai and a vocal critic of the junta, told the Associated Press that even when the military is no longer in power and a civilian government is in place after the 2017 elections, the military "will have the constitution as a remote control. The constitution can be used as a device to hold onto political power." (The Independent)