A new Constitution was approved in August and national elections took place on 23 December. The political process was dominated by fighting between the Council for National Security (CNS) and allies of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The People Power Party, aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra, received the highest number of votes. Due to alleged irregularities, however, it was not clear whether they would be allowed to form a government.
Civil unrest increased in the four predominantly Muslim southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, and Songkhla, bringing the total number of deaths to more than 2,700 since January 2004. Near daily attacks by armed groups occurred, usually against police and security forces. As militarization escalated in the south, the Prime Minister increased the use of civilian militias. The majority of the victims were Muslim civilians, although Buddhist civilians were increasingly targeted by armed groups. The closure in June of more than 300 schools in Narathiwat Province alone was indicative of the extent of the violence.
Starting in June more than 600 people were arrested in the southern provinces, many without warrants; most were held beyond the maximum 37-day period permitted by law and sent to “voluntary” training camps. A court freed nearly 400 in October, accepting that their participation was not truly voluntary. However, they were not permitted to return to the three southern provinces from which they were taken.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders remained under threat, with three killed in November alone. Members and affiliates of the Working Group on Justice for Peace, chaired by Angkhana Neelapaijit, widow of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit (disappeared and killed in 2004), were at particular risk.
At least 26 people have disappeared since 2001. Few of these cases have come before a court, and none has been conclusively solved. In March, 24 southern Muslims sought asylum in Malaysia citing enforced disappearances as a reason.
Justice system and impunity
All five officers implicated in the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, including the only one convicted in 2006, were allowed to return to work. No disciplinary action was taken against them. A court ruled in April that Somchai Neelapaijit’s widow could not sue the Police Chief for redress.
The Ministry of Justice established a committee to prosecute human rights violations under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, focussing on extrajudicial executions during the 2003 war on drugs. However, little progress was made.
In May a court found three military personnel responsible for the deaths of 32 people at the April 2004 Krue Se mosque attack, in which more than 100 people were killed during clashes with security forces. None was prosecuted and one was subsequently appointed to the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in charge of combating violence in the south.
Police interfered with an inquest into the Tak Bai incident of October 2004 in which 85 people died, most from suffocation while being detained in military trucks. Although the police admitted misconduct, no officers were disciplined. Compensation was paid to victims on condition that a legal case against the authorities was dropped.
The ISOC law was passed on 20 December, conferring immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses on nearly all authorities who act “in good faith”.
Freedom of expression
In April a television station regarded as pro-Thaksin had its licence revoked by the CNS. Three Bangkok radio stations were shut down in May after airing the deposed Prime Minister’s call for a swift return to democracy. A Computer Related Offences Act was passed in May that allowed for wide-ranging action against computer use. Websites deemed anti-coup or pro-Thaksin were closed down. Access to YouTube was blocked from April to August because of a video deemed critical of the monarchy.
Three members of the White Dove anti-coup group were detained by police in Chiang Mai during demonstrations in May.
- The Constitutional Court ordered the disbanding of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and the suspension of 111 of its members from all political activities for five years, on the grounds of electoral fraud in 2006. In June, the government lifted a general nationwide ban on political activities.
- In July, six leaders of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship group were detained during an anti-coup rally that turned violent. They were only released on condition that they cease further political activity.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
In January the Prime Minister named “illegal border crossings by migrant workers and human traffickers” as the second of six threats facing Thailand, and announced that the government would begin regulating “illegal hilltribe aliens, such as the Hmong”.
In the same month international pressure led the authorities to halt the deportation of 143 recognized Lao refugees, most of whom were children, and the Prime Minister asserted that they would be allowed to resettle in third countries.
At least 179 Lao Hmong refugees were forcibly returned to Laos during the year, in contravention of Thailand’s international obligations. A bilateral border agreement was signed with Laos which envisaged the return of 8,000 Lao Hmong in 2008. No adequate process was set up to identify those needing international protection. Thousands of refugees from Myanmar were turned back at the border.
- Aye Oo, a young refugee man, was shot to death on 15 December by Thai security officers in Ban Mae Nai Soi refugee camp when a large number of refugees demonstrated against continued abuses by the officers. The Camp Commander was moved to an inactive post.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In March a number of Thai security officers in Ban Mae Nai Soi refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province severely beat a naturalized Karenni man. He was living in the camp with his refugee parents. He remained in a coma for nine days. Neither the officers nor the Camp Commander were disciplined. At least 10 cases of torture by the authorities were reported in the south.
The ISOC law empowered the Prime Minister to send individuals suspected of involvement in the violence in the south to six-month “voluntary training programmes” rather than face criminal charges. It also empowered him to take command of state agencies and to suppress groups and individuals deemed “threatening”. The law also restricted freedom of assembly and movement, freedom from arbitrary detention and unreasonable searches, and the right to privacy and fair trial procedures.
In August, Thailand signed the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and in October signed the UN Convention against Torture.
The death penalty remained in effect with about 1,000 people on death row, including many for drug-related offences. No one was executed.