(New York) – Thai authorities are increasingly arresting pro-democracy leaders in Bangkok for their role in organizing the widening protests, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately drop all charges and unconditionally release pro-democracy activists arbitrarily detained for participating in peaceful rallies.
On August 26, Thai police arrested Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree and Panumas “James” Singprom of the Free Youth Movement. The police charged the activists with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, assembly with an intent to cause violence, violating the ban on public gatherings, and other criminal offenses related to their involvement in a peaceful pro-democracy protest in Bangkok on July 18. Both are prominent advocates for gender equality and LGBT rights.
“Thai authorities should stop arresting and charging activists for organizing and participating in peaceful pro-democracy rallies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Thai government should stop believing that cracking down on protest organizers will make the pro-democracy rallies go away.”
The Bangkok Criminal Court released Tattep and Panumas on bail in the evening of August 26 after an opposition member of parliament used their position to guarantee the activists’ release, and on the condition that they would not engage in the alleged offenses for which they were arrested. Upon their release, the two activists announced that they will continue to speak at pro-democracy rallies.
The police previously arrested six pro-democracy activists on similar charges. Tattep, Panumas, and these activists are among 31 people whom the police seek to arrest for speaking onstage at the July 18 protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument organized by the Free Youth Movement. The protesters called for democracy, political reforms, and respect for human rights.
Since the July 18 protest, youth-led protests by various groups have spread across Thailand. The largest protest was in Bangkok on August 16, with participants calling for the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, respect for freedom of expression, and reforms of the institution of the monarchy to curb the current monarch’s powers. One of the activists, Arnon Nampha, a lawyer, has been arrested three times in one month on the same charges involving different protests.
In recent days Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha appears to have dropped his previous pledges to listen to dissenting voices and adopted a more hostile stance toward pro-democracy activists. “There are conflicts in our society,” the prime minister said at the gathering of government supporters on August 25. “The core of Thailand is comprised of nation, religion, and monarchy. This will never change. I will never allow that to happen. Every Thai must defend Thailand from those who want to destroy our country … The law will never forgive them.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. However, Thai authorities have routinely enforced censorship and gagged public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the role of the monarchy in society. Over the past decade, the government has prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for peacefully expressing their views.
“Thailand’s human rights crisis is increasingly reverberating around the world,” Adams said, “The United Nations and concerned governments should press the Thai government to end the crackdown on pro-democracy activists and peaceful rallies, and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained.”