Thailand: Immediately drop unjustified charges against protest leader

Responding to the arrest of prominent Thai rights activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul today for alleged sedition and computer-related crimes, Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said:

“As Thailand’s protest movement resumes, the Thai authorities continue to abuse their powers to detain and penalize peaceful protesters. For many years, the Thai authorities have tried to systematically silence the voices of activists and human rights defenders.  The arrest of Panusaya today marks just the latest example of the government’s long-running campaign of repression.”

“Panusaya is a student and a prominent protest leader who has been repeatedly targeted by authorities. She is a vocal voice in youth-led calls to uphold freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand. Arresting Panusaya shows the government has no intention of ending its vilification of human rights defenders and those who call for political reform.”

“To press arbitrary charges against Panusaya under the vaguely-worded Computer Crime Act and the overbroad sedition offence is a disgrace and a clear abuse of powers. The Thai authorities must immediately drop these charges. These laws enable the criminalization of freedom of expression and must be amended or repealed.”

“The continued support of the protests in Bangkok shows that the people of Thailand value their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Thai government must allow individuals to have their voices heard in peaceful assemblies.”

“Amnesty International calls on the authorities to immediately drop all charges against all peaceful protesters, release those still detained and commence meaningful dialogue with demonstrators.”

Background

Thai rights activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul was arrested today by Thailand’s Technology Crime Suppression Division and charged with sedition and computer-related crimes under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crime Act. Panusaya was later granted bail for 35,000 Baht (approx. USD 1,050).

She faces multiple criminal charges for her peaceful activism and may face up to life imprisonment if convicted.

Panusaya has campaigned tirelessly to promote social justice, equality, democracy and human rights. Authorities have repeatedly detained her and denied other student protesters the right to release on bail. Panusaya was detained from October 15-30, 2020 and from March to May 2021, during which time she contracted Covid-19.

Panusaya took part in groundbreaking, youth-led demonstrations with tens of thousands of mostly students last year that called for social and political reforms. Her arrest today comes amid years-long efforts by the Thai authorities to silence criticism and repress freedom of expression.

In March 2021, the Thai authorities proposed a draft law to regulate non-profit groups as part of efforts to pass repressive legislation that further muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In the latest iteration, the bill would give the government the power to arbitrarily ban groups, invade organizations’ privacy and infringe on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In response to tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets to demand democratic reforms throughout 2020 and into 2021 in Bangkok, the capital, and in provinces across Thailand, police have frequently used unlawful, excessive and unnecessary force to disperse peaceful protestors and enacted criminal proceedings against hundreds of demonstrators. 

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, from July 2020 to 20 September 2021, at least 1,341 individuals (182 of them children) have faced criminal charges – including sedition, royal defamation, computer-related crime, violation of the Public Assembly – in 1,040 lawsuits for joining protests.

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