Thai authorities should drop charges against child protesters after they took part in mass demonstrations between 2020 and 2022, Amnesty International said today, in the lead-up to World Children’s Day on 20 November.
Amnesty International has been closely monitoring and documenting the impact of the ongoing, years-long crackdown on child protesters, which has included intimidation, surveillance, and criminalization of their activities.
The organization has recorded instances of Thai police and other government officials following and monitoring dozens of child protesters, pressuring their family members and school authorities to discourage them from joining protests, and directly threatening to file charges against them and their parents.
“Many of the people who took part in these unprecedented mass demonstrations starting in 2020 were children at the time, who felt a need to express themselves about matters affecting their futures,” said Katherine Gerson, Thailand campaigner for Amnesty International.
“Thai authorities must take the opportunity of World Children’s Day to create a safe and enabling environment for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We urge authorities to let these young people get on with their lives without unwarranted legal cases hanging over them and impeding their economic, educational and professional opportunities.”
We urge authorities to let these young people get on with their lives without unwarranted legal cases hanging over them and impeding their economic, educational and professional opportunities.Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International Thailand Campaigner
Since 2020, an estimated 283 protesters under the age of 18 have been charged with a range of offences, the majority under an Emergency Decree Act passed during the pandemic that has since been repealed. Others face charges of royal defamation, sedition and the dissemination of what authorities deem to be “false” information. Nearly 200 of these cases are still active.
“People have been accused of violating a pandemic-related Emergency Decree that no longer exists. This is nonsensical. Thai authorities should immediately drop all charges and refrain from bringing any additional cases against people, including children, for violating this defunct law,” Gerson said.
On November 22, the Central Juvenile and Family Court will deliver its ruling in the first case of royal defamation involving a child protester named Thanakorn “Petch” Phiraban, an LGBTI+ activist charged for peacefully participating in a protest on 6 December 2020 when they were 17 years old. In this case, Petch faces the maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.
“As recent reports in the lead-up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Bangkok suggest, groups of children are still taking to the streets to peacefully express themselves despite the potential risks involved in exercising their human rights. Thai authorities must refrain from violating the right to protest and take steps to actively facilitate children’s full enjoyment of this right.”
In 2020, tens of thousands of young people took to the streets in mass protests against the military-dominated government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Peaceful “flash mob” demonstrations began to take place at university campuses and high schools around the country.
The protest movement rapidly expanded through social media platforms, especially Twitter, where protesters organically coordinated gatherings via hashtags. An overwhelming number of participants at the start of the protests were secondary school students under 18 years old.
In total, more than 1,800 individuals have been charged for taking part in the protests and expressing their opinions, most of them under the Emergency Decree Act, which was repealed in October 2022.
Currently, Amnesty International is running the global campaign “Protect the Protest” to ensure people around the world can peacefully demand change without persecution.
Amnesty International is a global human rights movement, independent of any government, political ideology or economic interest. Raising concerns about human rights violations against individual persons or organizations advocating a particular political position does not imply that Amnesty International supports that person or organization’s platform.