Responding to news that the Pattani Provincial Prosecutor will formally end the criminal defamation case against an Amnesty International Thailand chairperson, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and two other human rights activists, Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemmina, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:
“While it is heartening that the charges against three brave human rights defenders have finally been dropped, the fact is they should never have been brought in the first place. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemmina did nothing but stand up, peacefully, for the rights of others, and it is outrageous to think they could have faced jail time simply for exposing torture by the military.
“Thailand needs to take seriously its responsibility to create an environment in which human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of retaliation. All charges must be dropped against those who are imprisoned or facing criminal proceedings merely for exercising their human rights peacefully.
“The Thai government must also immediately decriminalise defamation, as these laws are often used to prosecute those reporting torture and other rights violations. Even if a case does not go to trial, the filing of criminal complaints and charges are a potent form of harassment that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”
In February 2016, Cross-Cultural Foundation and Duay Jai (Hearty Support) Group published a joint report documenting 54 cases of torture and other ill-treatment by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army in Thailand’s southern provinces.
On 17 May 2016, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4, which is responsible for security operations in the area, initiated criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against the three human rights defenders, who edited the report. In March 2017, after significant campaigning by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, military officials stated that they would withdraw the charges. However, only the criminal defamation charges were withdrawn at that time.
In recent years, Thai authorities have targeted many activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and other members of Thailand’s civil society as part of a systematic crackdown on government critics.