Insurgency continued in the south, where martial law and an emergency decree remained in force, and the official death toll since January 2004 reached 3,500. Security forces were responsible for human rights violations, including torture and arbitary arrest and detention. Armed insurgents also committed serious abuses, including deliberate attacks on civilians. In Bangkok, freedom of expression and assembly were curtailed by two emergency decrees issued after violent demonstrations, and restrictions on the media increased. The Act on Internal Security came into force with broad and vague application. The government forcibly returned several groups of Burmese and Lao Hmong asylum-seekers.
The People Power Party, led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, formed a coalition government in January. Both the party and its leader were aligned with deposed and exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Anti-government protesters led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), took to the streets in May and forcibly occupied Government House and the Prime Minister’s office in August. Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign the following month after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had violated conflict of interest rules. Violence erupted on a number of occasions between the PAD, pro-government demonstrators, and the police, resulting in several deaths and hundreds of injuries. In September, Somchai Wongsawat – former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s brother-in-law – became Prime Minister, leading to more demonstrations and violence, including several deaths. In late November, PAD occupied Bangkok’s two international airports. In early December, Somchai Wongsawat was forced to step down after the Constitutional Court ruled that his party had violated electoral law. Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, became Prime Minister in December.
"The authorities sent some 1,700 Lao Hmong people back to Laos..."
Abuses by armed groups
In January, a bomb set off by insurgents in a Yala Province market injured at least 44 people. In March, insurgents killed two people with a car bomb at the CS Pattani Hotel in Pattani Province, considered one of the safest hotels in the south. In Yala Province, 15 children were injured by bombs in March and April. Insurgents shot dead a 3-year-old boy and his father in Yala, and a nine-year-old girl, her young brother, and their father in Narathiwat. In September, insurgents shot dead a government official in Pattani before beheading him, the 41st person beheaded since January 2004. In November, two bombs on the same day in Narathiwat injured at least 75 people.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain young Malay-Muslim and politically active men in the south, primarily for intelligence-gathering purposes. This was often carried out using lists of “suspects” compiled for this purpose, and through sweeping operations of Malay-Muslim villages.
Police and security forces
In January, a police captain and seven other members of the 41st Border Patrol Police unit were arrested for abuse of power, corruption, and police brutality in anti-drugs operations. They had allegedly abducted, framed, and tortured people in an attempt to extract confessions or ransom payments. In response, however, Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej, national police commissioner-general, threatened to take legal action against anyone who filed false complaints against police officers.
- On 7 October, Angkana Pradubpanya-avut died from the impact of a tear gas canister fired directly at her chest by Thai riot police during a violent clash with anti-government PAD protesters in Bangkok. At least 440 others, including police, were injured in the violence.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Reports of torture and other ill-treatment by security services in counter-insurgency operations in the south increased. Detainees were reportedly subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in four southern provinces. Some died in custody.
- A 42-year-old man from Pattani reported that three soldiers held him while another burned his foot with a lighter until it was out of fuel. Soldiers made him dig a hole and sit inside it as they filled it with dirt up to his neck.
- A 22-year-old student from Narathiwat reported that he was drenched in water and had electric shocks applied to his feet.
No one had been held accountable for these acts at the end of the year.
Freedom of expression
The number of people charged with lèse-majesté, a law prohibiting any word or act which defames, insults, or threatens the royal family, increased substantially in 2008.
- In January, a book that was critical of Thailand’s 2006 military coup, and raised questions about the political role of the monarchy, was banned and its author placed under investigation.
- In April, two Thais were charged for not standing up when the royal anthem was played at a cinema.
- In July, a trade union leader was dismissed by her employer for appearing on television wearing a t-shirt deemed to be in violation of the law.
- Between March and August, the Information and Communications Technology Ministry ordered internet service providers to block at least 340 websites because of content deemed insulting to the monarchy.
In November, the opposition party proposed shifting the burden of proof onto defendants in lèse-majesté cases.
In February, the government pressured a radio station to take a programme off the air after it contradicted controversial remarks made on CNN by then Prime Minister Samak about the 6 October 1976 uprising in Thailand.
In September, the government imposed an emergency decree in Bangkok for twelve days, severely restricting freedom of expression. The same decree was imposed for 13 days in November and December.
In January, an independent committee found no evidence linking any government official to extrajudicial executions during former Prime Minister Thaksin’s “war on drugs” in 2003. This was despite its objective of identifying people who might be brought to justice for such killings, and its findings that Thaksin’s shoot-to-kill orders were widely implemented and that the Interior Ministry was ordered to issue a blacklist.
According to the report, of 2,819 people killed between February and April 2003 – 54 in shoot-outs with the police – only 1,370 were related to the drugs trade.
- On 19 March, police from Rueso District police station and military personnel belonging to the 39th Special Task Force Unit in Narathiwat Province arrested Yapha Kaseng, an imam. He died in custody two days later. In December, a post-mortem inquest determined that he died as a result of his treatment in custody.
- Impunity continued for those responsible for enforced disappearances, including that of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim lawyer, in 2004.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The authorities sent some 1,700 Lao Hmong people back to Laos, including an unknown number of forcibly returned asylum-seekers.
In February, the governor of Mae Hong Son Province refused permission for at least 20 members of Myanmar’s “long-necked” Padaung ethnic group to leave Mae Hong Son Province on the basis that they were valuable tourist attractions, despite their being recognized as refugees and accepted for resettlement in other countries.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
The Act on Internal Security of 2008 came into force in February, giving the Thai military and security forces sweeping powers concerning internal security, including the power to “prevent, suppress, suspend, inhibit, and overcome or mitigate the situation”. Its application to the insurgency in southern Thailand remained unclear.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2008 came into force in June.
At least three people were sentenced to death; no executions took place in 2008. In December, Thailand voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.