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Thailand: Release peaceful critics and de-escalate tensions amid fresh wave of protests

  • Nearly one year after emergency decree, more than 380 protesters including 13 children face criminal charges while alleged protest leaders remain in detention
  • 61 people face charges for defamatory comments about the monarchy
  • More large-scale protests expected today


As protests in Thailand begin to intensify again, authorities must urgently de-escalate their current heavy-handed approach and stop trampling the human rights of peaceful protesters, said Amnesty International today.

Hundreds of peaceful protesters, including children, are facing criminal charges and several have been detained for weeks as large-scale protests are expected again today, Saturday 6 March 2021.

A resumption in mass protests began on Sunday, 28 February 2021, which was met with excessive use of force from the authorities including less-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets, batons, tear gas and water cannon laced with chemical irritants.

“The continued, frequent use of intimidation by the Thai authorities is a blatant assault on people’s rights to voice their opinions and peacefully protest. Nearly a year since the Thai government imposed an emergency decree in response to growing peaceful discontent across the country, the picture is harrowing: 383 individuals are facing trumped up criminal charges, including 13 children, simply for gathering and expressing themselves,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, Emerlynne Gil.

“The Thai authorities have spent the past year in a new systematic campaign to repress people simply wishing to peacefully express their views.  We continue to urge the authorities to re-think their approach and instead resolve the situation by genuinely respecting human rights.

“It’s also shocking that authorities are repeatedly denying bail to prominent peaceful protesters detained since 9 February 2021, who face multiple criminal charges for voicing their opinions.

“Authorities must immediately drop politically-motivated charges against peaceful protesters, including children. They must release all those peaceful protesters and leaders still detained, effectively investigate the repeated instances of unnecessary and excessive use of force, and ensure these protests are policed according to international standards,” said Emerlynne Gil.

Heavy-handed response to last week’s protests

On Sunday 28 February, water cannon, batons, tear gas and rubber bullets were used against hundreds of protesters marching to the King’s Guard Battalion, current residence of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, in Bangkok. The Erawan Medical Centre reported 33 official injuries from the protest (23 officers and 10 protesters), while more than 100 protestors reported injuries.

A total of 23 people were reportedly arrested, including four children aged 15-16 years old and another four young people aged 18. Some were detained at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 Headquarters, Pathum Thani province.

At least 130 people have so far been detained without charge or judicial oversight at the facility between 13 October 2020 and 1 March 2021, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Alleged protest leaders denied bail as charges pile up

Since the Emergency Decree issued on 26 March 2020, hundreds of protesters face trumped-up criminal charges for their involvement in the peaceful protests which grew in scale throughout the past 12 months.

More than 380 people detained have been charged with provisions often used to criminalize peaceful protests, including sedition and assembly with threat of violence (Sections 116 and 215 of the Criminal Code, respectively), and violation of the ban on public assembly under the Emergency Decree and the Public Assembly Act.

Since November 2020, when authorities announced they would resume the use of lèse-majesté – or royal defamation – under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, 61 people have been charged, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. They are facing up to 15 years in prison for the defamation charge.

Pro-democracy activists Arnon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk remain detained while facing lèse-majesté charges for their participation in two protests in 2020. Their bail applications have been denied since their arrest on 9 February.

Background

Under international human rights law and policing standards, law enforcement officers must as far as possible stop and isolate individuals responsible for violent acts but not hinder others who want to continue to protest peacefully. Police may use force as a last resort: only when absolutely necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. The use of force should only be aimed at stopping violence, and exercised with utmost restraint with a view of minimizing injury and preserving the right to life.

Since the imposition of the Emergency Decree on 26 March 2020, officials have continuously detained and initiated criminal complaints against individuals engaged in peaceful protests and activities. Demonstrators have reported numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation by police officers solely for their involvement in peaceful protests, including ongoing student-led peaceful demonstrations calling for a new constitution, resignation of the government, monarchic reforms, and an end to harassment of the police opposition.

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