The military authorities further restricted human rights. Peaceful political dissent, whether through speech or protests, and acts perceived as critical of the monarchy were punished or banned. Politicians, activists and human rights defenders faced criminal investigations and prosecutions for, among other things, campaigning against a proposed Constitution and reporting on state abuses. Many civilians were tried in military courts. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread. Community land rights activists faced arrest, prosecution and violence for opposing development projects and advocating for the rights of communities.
Thailand remained under the authority of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), a group of military authorities which have held power since a 2014 coup. The August referendum approved a draft Constitution that would allow the army to retain considerable power. Elections were set to follow in late 2017 at the earliest.
The prosecution of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for alleged criminal negligence in the management of a government rice subsidy scheme continued. In October, the government ordered her to pay a 35.7 billion baht (US$1 billion) fine over the government losses from the scheme.
The EU remained unsatisfied with the authorities’ progress to end illegal and unregulated fishing and abusive labour practices.
The Head of the NCPO continued to use extraordinary powers under Article 44 of the interim Constitution to issue orders, some of which arbitrarily restricted the exercise of human rights, including peaceful political activities. In March he issued an order expanding the law enforcement powers of military officers, which allowed officers to detain individuals without court approval for a broad range of criminal activities.1
Civilians were tried before military courts for violations of NCPO orders, crimes against national security and insulting the monarchy. In September, the Head of the NCPO issued an order rescinding the military courts’ jurisdiction over cases involving civilians, which was not retroactive. Trials continued in military courts.
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
Peaceful critics were penalized for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association. Individuals perceived as supporting government critics – including relatives, members of the public, lawyers and journalists – also faced harassment and prosecution.
The Constitutional Referendum Act, which governed the August referendum, provided for up to 10 years’ imprisonment for activities and statements “causing confusion to affect orderliness of voting”, including by using “offensive” or “rude” language to influence votes. The law was used to target those who opposed the draft Constitution. More than 100 people were reportedly charged with offences related to the referendum.2
Amendments to the Computer Crimes Act allowed for continued surveillance without prior judicial authorization and failed to bring the law in line with international law and standards on the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The authorities also considered increased online surveillance and greater control of internet traffic.
Individuals were charged with or convicted of offences under Article 112 of the Penal Code for criticizing the monarchy. The Article carried a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Military courts interpreted the provisions broadly and imposed sentences of up to 60 years’ imprisonment for convictions on multiple counts of the offence, including against people with mental illnesses. Bail was routinely denied to those arrested under Article 112.
Individuals were charged or convicted under a ban on political gatherings of five or more people imposed by a 2015 order from the NCPO Head. It was used especially against opposition political groups and pro-democracy activists. In June, the authorities initiated criminal proceedings against 19 members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship for holding a press conference to celebrate the opening of a centre to monitor the constitutional referendum. Pro-democracy student activists faced charges in multiple criminal cases for peaceful protests and other public activities opposing military rule and Thailand’s draft Constitution.
The authorities sought to silence those raising concerns about torture and other ill-treatment. In September, Amnesty International was forced to cancel a press conference in the capital Bangkok to launch a report on torture, after officials threatened to arrest the scheduled speakers.3
Somchai Homla-or, Anchana Heemmina and Pornpen Khongkachonkiet were charged with criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crime Act for reporting on torture by soldiers in southern Thailand.4 A 25-year-old woman faced similar charges after campaigning to hold accountable military officers responsible for the torture and killing of her uncle, a military trainee.
Authorities cancelled many events involving discussions about human rights or political events. In October, immigration officials detained and forcibly returned to Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was invited to speak at a commemoration of the 1976 massacre of student protesters by Thai authorities.5
Arbitrary arrests and detention
The authorities continued to use Head of NCPO Order 3/2015 to arbitrarily detain individuals incommunicado for up to seven days without charge for what became known as “attitude adjustment” sessions.6
Journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, like many others previously arbitrarily detained, remained bound by restrictive conditions of release. He was prevented from travelling to Helsinki for a UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders faced prosecution, imprisonment, harassment and physical violence for their peaceful work. Sirikan Charoensiri, a leading human rights lawyer, was charged with multiple offences, including sedition, for her legal work. She faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Economic, social and cultural rights activists were subject to prosecutions and lawsuits initiated by private corporations, often for alleged defamation or violations of the Computer Crimes Act. A gold mining company had initiated criminal and civil proceedings against at least 33 people who opposed its operations. Andy Hall, a migrants’ rights activist, was convicted in September for his contribution to a report on labour rights violations by a fruit company.7
Human rights defenders, especially those working on land issues or with community-based organizations, faced harassment, threats and physical violence. In April, unidentified assailants shot and injured Supoj Kansong, a land rights activist from the Khlong Sai Pattana community in southern Thailand. Four activists from that community had previously been killed; by the end of the year no one had been held accountable for the killings.8 In October, the Department of Special Investigations informed human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit’s family that it was closing its investigation into his enforced disappearance in 2004, due to lack of evidence.
There was little progress in government negotiations to resolve a decades-long conflict with ethnic-Malay separatists in southern Thailand. Insurgents carried out numerous attacks on military and civilian targets in the region and both sides of the conflict were accused of grave human rights abuses. Insurgent groups targeted civilians with bombings and, in March, attacked a hospital in Narathiwat province.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Members of the military continued to torture individuals suspected of links to insurgents in the south and political and security detainees elsewhere, facilitated by laws and orders allowing soldiers to detain individuals in unofficial places of detention without judicial oversight for up to seven days.9 Two military recruits reportedly died after alleged torture in military camps. Torture and other ill-treatment by the security forces in the context of routine law enforcement operations were also reported. Police officers and soldiers were also responsible for human rights violations against members of vulnerable communities, including migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and suspected drug users at police stations, roadblocks, and various unofficial places of detention.
Thailand considered new legislation criminalizing torture and enforced disappearances.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The legal system did not provide formal recognition for refugees and asylum-seekers, leaving many vulnerable to abuse. Asylum-seekers, including children, faced months or years of indefinite detention in crowded immigration detention centres. Scores of Rohingya people had remained in these centres since they arrived by boat during a regional migration crisis in 2015. The authorities did not adequately address their protection needs as asylum-seekers and potential victims of human trafficking.
- Thailand: Human rights groups condemn NCPO Order 13/2016 and urge for it to be revoked immediately (ASA 39/3783/2016)
- Thailand: Open letter on human rights concerns in the run-up to the constitutional referendum (ASA 39/4548/2016)
- Thailand: Torture victims must be heard (News story, 28 September)
- Amnesty International Thailand’s Chair and other activists face jail for exposing torture (News story, 25 July)
- Thailand: Denial of entry to Hong Kong student activist a new blow to freedom of expression (News story, 5 October)
- Thailand: Prisoner of conscience must be released: Watana Muangsook (ASA 39/3866/2016)
- Thailand: Another human rights activist is unjustly targeted (News story, 20 September)
- Thailand: Authorities must protect human rights defenders in the line of fire (ASA 39/3805/2016)
- “Make him speak by tomorrow”: Torture and other ill-treatment in Thailand (ASA 39/4747/2016)