Hundreds of arbitrary detentions, reports of torture and other ill-treatment, sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and unfair trials in military courts are creating a climate of fear in Thailand, and there are no signs of a let-up, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
The report, Attitude adjustment –100 days under Martial Law, is the first comprehensive investigation into Thailand’s human rights situation since the military imposed Martial Law on 20 May 2014 and seized power two days later.
“Three months since the coup, a picture emerges from our investigations of widespread and far-reaching human rights violations perpetrated by the military government that are ongoing,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“The Thai authorities should end this disturbing pattern of repression, end human rights violations, respect its international human rights obligations and allow open debate and discussion – all of which are vital to the country’s future.”
In an effort to “adjust attitudes” and stifle dissent, the military government – known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – has engaged in systemic arbitrary arrests and detentions of hundreds of people, many of them allies of the former government, in violation of their right to liberty and other human rights.
Although most were held for only up to seven days, they were detained without charge or trial, denied access to lawyers and sometimes held incommunicado. They are now living with the threat of prosecution after signing waivers promising not to engage in “political activity” as a pre-condition for their release.
The military and police have detained or threatened to detain family members of some of those refusing to report. Several individuals face prosecution for disobeying the military’s order to report and have had their passports revoked.
“The mass arbitrary detentions flagrantly disregard Thailand’s international human rights commitments. This is a clear case of political persecution and an attempt to silence dissent,” said Richard Bennett.
“The detentions and orders to report must end, as must all restrictions placed on those individuals released and prosecutions against those who refused to report.”
Torture and other ill-treatment
Amnesty International has received credible reports of a number of people being tortured, including during incommunicado detention, ranging from beatings and asphyxiation to mock executions. Torture is a long-standing problem in Thailand and was rife in places of detention particularly in areas where Martial Law was imposed previously.
Kritsuda Khunasen, a political activist who was detained on 27 May 2014, said she was badly and repeatedly beaten by soldiers and asphyxiated with a plastic bag during interrogation.
“If I was too slow when answering, didn’t speak, didn’t answer the question in a direct manner … I was beaten with a fist to my face, stomach and body… The worst that I experienced was when they placed a plastic bag over my head, tied up the ends and put a cloth bag over my head. This knocked me unconscious and I was brought back by throwing water on me… I finally knew what it felt like to be in constant fear of death,” she said.
“The NCPO must ensure that no one is subjected to torture or other ill-treatment–and allegations that these crimes have taken place must be promptly, impartially, independently and thoroughly investigated, with those suspected of criminal responsibility prosecuted,” said Richard Bennett.
Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
The NCPO has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which has had a chilling effect on public debate and led to widespread self-censorship.
Hundreds of websites have been taken down or blocked, censorship panels have been set up to monitor media and people have been threatened with imprisonment for posting anything deemed critical of the military online.
A ban on gatherings of more than five people has been in effect since Martial Law was imposed, a clear violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
And an unprecedented number of people have been charged under the abusive lèse majesté law, which bans insults to members of the royal family. Four persons have been prosecuted and sentenced since the coup, and a further ten persons have been charged.
“It has become part of the military government’s modus operandi to crack down on the smallest forms of dissent, such as wearing T-shirts that could ‘promote division’ or reading certain books and eating sandwiches in public in symbolic protest against military rule,” said Richard Bennett.
“The Thai authorities must repeal those abusive laws and orders, lift all charges against any individuals brought solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and release those detained or imprisoned under such charges immediately and unconditionally.”
Human rights defenders
Restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have had serious implications for the vital work of human rights defenders and organizations, including Amnesty International’s national Section in Thailand.
Human rights groups have been ordered not to hold peaceful events, while criminal defamation charges and prosecutions initiated before the coup against journalists and human rights activists are continuing.
The right to a fair trial is also in jeopardy, as some 60 individuals imminently face trials in military courts, with no right of appeal.
The NCPO has ordered the prosecution of civilians in military courts for breaching military orders which themselves violate key human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and for breaching lèse majesté laws which themselves may violate the right to freedom of expression.
“Attitude adjustment” – 100 days under Martial Law sets out a series of recommendations to the Thai authorities to restore respect for human rights, and to ensure that Thailand is meeting its international obligations.
“Thailand has international human rights obligations that cannot be ignored in the name of ‘national security’ – current restrictions on freedoms are far too sweeping,” said Richard Bennett.
“Members of the international community should take all opportunities, including the current session of the Human Rights Council, to encourage Thailand’s military government to change its course and ensure the respect for human rights that is necessary if it is to achieve its stated aim of national reconciliation.”