The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly came under renewed attack. New legislation to prevent torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance did not go far enough to effectively protect against these crimes. Refugees fleeing Myanmar continued to face arrest, detention and extortion by Thai authorities at the Thailand-Myanmar border. Malay Muslims in the southern border area remained subject to mass and discriminatory DNA collection.
In January the government resumed its official dialogue with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most active separatist armed group in Thailand’s restive southern border region. These two parties reached an agreement to reduce armed activities during Ramadan from 2 April to 1 May. There was limited involvement of civil society groups, including human rights organizations, in the dialogue.
On 1 October the government mostly lifted the nationwide state of emergency which had been imposed in March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and continually extended. The sweeping powers granted to the authorities under the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations were used to crack down on peaceful dissent, both offline and online. Some border areas remained under a state of emergency and martial law at the end of the year.
Freedom of assembly
Overwhelmingly peaceful protests continued to take place amid restrictions imposed by the government as part of its pandemic response. From January to August there were at least 585 small- and medium-scale protests across the country. Protesters’ demands covered numerous issues, including among others the release of individuals detained for their peaceful political expression, the economic impacts of Covid-19, and respect for the rights of workers and Indigenous peoples.
Since May 2020, at least 1,468 individuals including 241 children faced criminal charges for alleged violations of the state of emergency for their involvement in these protests. Human rights defender Sitanun Satsaksit was charged following her participation in a protest in the capital, Bangkok, on 5 September 2021. She had previously presented a petition to the UN regarding the abduction of her younger brother in Cambodia.1 Despite the government’s revocation of the state of emergency, the cases against more than 1,000 protesters remained pending investigation or trial.
A government inquiry into the use of live ammunition during a protest in August 2021 which killed 15-year-old protester Warit Somnoi encountered significant delays resulting from the police’s repeated failures to provide evidence to the public prosecutor.
Riot police used rubber bullets and beat protesters to disperse a demonstration against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok on 18 November. Nine protesters, four reporters and five police officers were injured.
Freedom of expression
The authorities continued to bring criminal charges against individuals who expressed opinions critical of the government. Activists, journalists and political opponents were charged for various violations under lèse-majesté (defaming, insulting or threatening the monarch) and other defamation laws, sedition, and the Computer Crimes Act. Local NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that, from mid-2020 to September 2022, at least 1,860 individuals, including 283 children, faced criminal proceedings for expressing views critical of the government. Between January and June, more than 200 individuals were charged with lèse-majesté, the highest number in Thailand’s history.
Nine activists remained in pretrial detention at the end of the year, including three charged with lèse-majesté. Many others were released but with restrictive conditions on their movement or freedom of expression and assembly.
From January to September, the authorities blocked 4,735 web pages, including 1,816 deemed to be in violation of the lèse-majesté law. In February, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society revealed that the government was considering creating a single internet gateway to tighten official control over internet usage. In the same month, the cabinet approved the creation of “anti-fake news centres” to crack down on “false information on social media”, granting authorities at ministerial and provincial levels the power to monitor and prosecute those alleged to be spreading fake news.
In July, an international digital forensic investigation verified by Amnesty International revealed that the devices of 35 Thai human rights defenders, activists and academics were infected with Pegasus spyware. Amnesty International reiterated its call for a global moratorium on the sale of spyware in the context of Thailand.2
Freedom of association
In January the cabinet approved the draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations. In August, the cabinet further approved the 2022-2027 draft national Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism strategy. Both measures would place vague and broad limitations on civil society activities, for example by prohibiting activities causing “division within society” or affecting “national security”, “public order or morals” or “public interests” that constitute excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of association under international law.
Torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearances
In May, a court in Songkhla province ruled that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the death of Abdullah Isomuso, a Malay Muslim detainee, was caused by military officials. Abdullah Isomuso was found unconscious in military custody and later died in hospital in August 2019.
In June, a court convicted seven police officers for the murder of Jiraphong Thanapat who was tortured and died during interrogation at Muang Nakhon Sawan police station on 5 August 2021. Six officers were sentenced to life imprisonment and one received a shorter sentence as the court found he was not directly involved with the murder.
In October, Thailand adopted the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act; an important step to prevent and provide redress for these crimes. The law will come into effect in February 2023. Human rights groups, which had campaigned for years for the law to be passed, noted that it still had significant deficiencies such as the absence of the “exclusionary rule” (which prevents evidence gathered through torture, other ill-treatment or enforced disappearance being used at trial) and the prohibition of the use of amnesty laws for perpetrators of these acts. Human rights groups also expressed concern over the composition, structure and mandate of the domestic Committee on the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance, which was to be established under the new law, due to the Committee’s lack of power to inspect places of detention.3
Indigenous peoples’ rights
In August, the Office of the Attorney-General indicted the former Chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park and three other park officials accused of murdering Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, an Indigenous Karen human rights defender who disappeared while in the custody of the authorities in 2014. The charges included illegal detention, extortion, murder and concealing the victim’s body.
In the same month, police summoned human rights lawyer Waraporn Utairangsee to acknowledge the charge of giving false information on a criminal offence. The former Chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park had filed a criminal complaint against her in July 2021, after she filed a case against park officials for forcefully evicting Indigenous Karen villagers residing in the national park area and burning 98 of their houses.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
In June and September, the authorities found at least 110 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar floating on boats off the shore of Satun province in southern Thailand after they were abandoned by smugglers. All were detained in an immigration detention centre. Human Rights Watch reported that Thai authorities continued to hold indefinitely at least 470 Rohingyas in immigration detention centres. In September, immigration police refused the entry of Han Lay, a Myanmar national who publicly criticized human rights violations by the military in Myanmar after the 2021 coup. She later received asylum in Canada. Refugees from Myanmar continued to face arrest, detention and extortion by Thai authorities at the Thailand-Myanmar border.
In February the CERD Committee recommended that Thailand end the mass and discriminatory collection and use of DNA samples and other forms of racial profiling. This recommendation went unheeded as authorities continued to practise DNA collection, especially in the country’s Malay Muslim-majority southern border area, including for the purposes of determining citizenship of stateless persons and fighting local insurgency groups.
- Thailand: Sister of abducted activist charged for campaigning – Sitanun Satsaksit, 4 July
- “Thailand: Pegasus spyware found on phones of dissidents involved in mass protests,” 18 July
- Thailand: Adoption of law to address torture and enforced disappearance is a step forward, but significant shortcomings remain, 31 August