Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thailand: Drop Charges Against Phuket Journalists Prosecution Harms Anti-Human-Trafficking Efforts

http://www.hrw.org/node/134360
For Immediate Release

Thailand: Drop Charges Against Phuket Journalists
Prosecution Harms Anti-Human-Trafficking Efforts

(New York, April 17, 2015) – Thai authorities should drop criminal proceedings against two journalists for reporting on trafficking of ethnic Rohingya “boat people,” Human Rights Watch said today. Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, the editor and correspondent of the news website Phuketwan, were charged one year ago, on April 17, 2014, with criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act based on a complaint filed by the Thai navy.

If convicted on the criminal defamation charges, Morison and Sidasathian could be imprisoned for up to two years. Under the Computer Crime Act, they face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (US$3,125). They are scheduled to go to trial on July 14-16.

“The Thai authorities should direct the navy to unconditionally drop its baseless charges against the two journalists,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This effort to silence media criticism has backfired against the navy, which should act swiftly to cut its losses.”

The charges centered on a paragraph in the Phuketwan online newspaper on July 17, 2013, that cited a Reuters investigative report alleging that some navy officials “work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya,” and that they earn about 2,000 baht (US$63) per Rohingya “for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye.” The report was part of a Reuters investigative series on the plight of the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority in Burma, that won a Pulitzer Prize.

Human Rights Watch believes that criminal defamation laws should be abolished, as criminal penalties are always disproportionate punishments for reputational harm and infringe on free expression. Criminal defamation laws are open to easy abuse, resulting in very harsh consequences, including imprisonment. As repeal of criminal defamation laws in an increasing number of countries shows, such laws are not necessary for the purpose of protecting reputations.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to impart information. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors state compliance with the covenant, has expressed its concern at the misuse of defamation laws to criminalize freedom of expression and has said that such laws should never be used when expression is without malice and in the public interest.

“The Phuketwan journalists are among the few who are still regularly reporting on the pervasive human trafficking of Rohingya in Thailand,” Adams said. “Thailand’s efforts to show progress in tackling human trafficking are seriously damaged by this shoot-the-messenger action against journalists exposing abuses.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/thailand

For more information, please contact:
In Bangkok, Sunai Phasuk (English and Thai):+66-81-632-3052 (mobile); or phasuks@hrw.org Twitter: @SunaiBKK
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1-347-463-3531 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org Twitter: @BradAdamsHRW
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org Twitter: @johnsifton

Thailand: Army Secretly Detaining 17 Muslim Activists: Arbitrary Arrests Chill Rights Climate in South

For Immediate Release

Thailand: Army Secretly Detaining 17 Muslim Activists

Arbitrary Arrests Chill Rights Climate in South

(New York, April 4, 2015) – Thai military authorities should immediately
confirm the location of 17 student activists who were arbitrarily
arrested on April 2, 2015, in Thailand’s southern Narathiwat province,
Human Rights Watch said today. The activists should
be freed unless they have been charged by a judge with a credible
offense.

Soldiers conducted a warrantless search at about 5 a.m. on April 2
at four student dormitories in Muang district of Narathiwat province.
They forced at least 17 activists from the network of ethnic Malay
Muslim students at Princess of Narathiwat University
to give DNA samples and then took them into military custody. Human
Rights Watch has learned that the activists are being detained without
charge in Pileng, Buket Tanyong, and Chulabhorn Camps in Narathiwat
province. The military authorities have provided
no explanation for the students’ detention or said when they would be
released.

“Arbitrary arrests, secret detention, and unaccountable officials are a recipe for human rights abuses,” said
Brad Adams,
Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The use of martial law to detain
student activists shows how out of control the Thai military authorities
have become.”

The detained activists include Aseng Kilimo, Bahakim Jehmae,
Tuanahamad Majeh, Muruwan Blabueteng, Asri Saroheng, Ibroheng Abdi,
Sufiyan Doramae, Ismael Jehso, Abdulloh Madeng, Sagariya Samae, Usman
Oyu, Saidi Doloh, Tarsimi Madaka, Rosari Yako, Ahmad Yusoh,
Albari Aba, and Ridul Sulong.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised serious concerns regarding the use of arbitrary arrest and secret military detention in
Thailand’s
southern border provinces. Order 3/2558, issued in accordance with
section 44 of the interim constitution, provides the military
authorities with broad powers and legal
immunity to detain people incommunicado without charge in informal
places of detention, such as military camps, for seven days. It does not
ensure either effective judicial oversight or prompt access to legal
counsel and family members.

The risk of enforced disappearances, torture, and other
ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held
incommunicado in unofficial locations and under the control of the
military, which lacks training and experience in civilian law
enforcement,
Human Rights Watch said. Those who committed crimes should be properly
charged, but all should be treated according to international human
rights standards and due process of law.

The cycle of human rights abuses and impunity contributes to an
atmosphere in which Thai security personnel show little regard for human
rights and separatist insurgents have committed numerous atrocities.
Since January 2004, Thailand’s southern border
provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been the scene of a
brutal internal armed conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.
Civilians have accounted for approximately 90 percent of those deaths.
To date, not a single member of the Thai security
forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses in the
south. Meanwhile, the Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani insurgents in the loose
network of BRN-Coordinate (National Revolution Front-Coordinate)
regularly attack both government officials and
civilians.

“Violent insurgency is no excuse for the Thai military to resort to
summary and abusive measures against the Malay Muslim population,” Adams
said. “It’s very worrying that soldiers continue to arrest and detain
anyone they want.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/thailand

For more information, please contact:

In Bangkok, Sunai Phasuk (English and Thai): +32-484-535-186 (mobile); or
phasuks@hrw.org
.
Twitter: @SunaiBKK

In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or
siftonj@hrw.org

Twitter: @johnsifton

Thailand: Army Secretly Detaining 17 Muslim Activists Arbitrary Arrests Chill Rights Climate in South

UN Human Rights Chief alarmed by Thai Government’s adoption of potentially unlimited and “draconian” powers

GENEVA (2 April 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday expressed alarm at the Thai military Government’s announcement that it has invoked an article of the Interim Constitution that bestows unfettered authority on the head of the military government. The article grants sweeping law enforcement powers over the civilian population to military personnel, potentially overriding a wide range of human rights guaranteed under national and international law.

On Wednesday, the military Government of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was granted permission to revoke martial law, and replace it with extraordinary powers under article 44 of the Interim Constitution.

“Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law – and indeed strongly advocated for it to be lifted in Thailand,” the High Commissioner said. “But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all. This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights. I appeal to the Government to ensure that these extraordinary powers, even if provided for by the Interim Constitution, will nevertheless not be exercised imprudently.”

Under an Order published by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) elaborating the application of article 44, military personnel down to the rank of Second Lieutenant may be appointed as “peace and order maintenance officers” with sweeping law enforcement powers, including to search, arrest and detain without judicial oversight. In addition, they will be empowered “to conduct any other action” as ordered by the NCPO.

Article 44 effectively allows the head of the NCPO, General Chan-ocha, to issue any legislative, executive or judicial order. Such orders, and any action based on them, would automatically be deemed legal, constitutional and conclusive. Even violations of human rights under international and existing national laws would be considered legal, and no avenues of accountability could be pursued. The peace and order maintenance officers are provided with immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liabilities for any action they may take while acting under these extraordinary powers.

“The NCPO Order issued on Wednesday also annihilates freedom of expression,” Zeid said. “It explicitly gives these military peace and order maintenance officers the authority to prohibit ‘the reporting of news’ or sale or distribution of books, publications, or any other medium that ‘may create public fear or are intended to distort news and information to cause misunderstandings which could affect national security or public order.’ Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment earmarked for protesters who gather in groups of more than five.”

“In effect, this means the sweeping away of all checks and balances on the power of the Government, rendering the lifting of martial law meaningless,” Zeid said.

“I urge the Thai Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and promptly restore normal civilian rule of law, as it pledged to do after the coup in May last year,” Zeid said.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact: Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).

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Thailand: Junta Leader Seeks Sweeping Powers

http://www.hrw.org/node/133863

 For Immediate Release

Thailand: Junta Leader Seeks Sweeping Powers

Would Invoke Constitutional Provision With Limitless Scope

(New York, April 1, 2015) – Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is seeking to invoke a constitutional provision that would give him unlimited powers without safeguards against human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 31, 2015, Prayuth announced that he has requested King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s permission to lift martial law, which has been enforced nationwide since the May 2014 military coup. Prayuth, who chairs the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, said he would replace the Martial Law Act of 1914 with section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which would allow him to issue orders without administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability.

“General Prayuth’s activation of constitution section 44 will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers.”

Under section 44, Prayuth as the NCPO chairman can issue orders and undertake acts without regard to the human rights implications, Human Rights Watch said. Section 44 states that “where the head of the NCPO is of opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reforms in any field, or to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act that undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs,” the head of the NCPO is empowered to “issue orders, suspend or act as deemed necessary.… Such actions are completely legal and constitutional.” No judicial or other oversight mechanism exists to examine use of these powers. Prayuth only needs to report his decisions and actions to the National Legislative Assembly and to the prime minister, a position he also occupies, after they are taken.

Prayuth has previously stated that orders issued under section 44 would allow the military to arrest and detain civilians. Since the May 2014 coup, the junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and others who they accuse of supporting the deposed Yingluck Shinawatra government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities. Military personnel have interrogated many of these detainees in secret and unauthorized military facilities without providing access to their lawyers or ensuring other safeguards against mistreatment.

The NCPO has continually refused to provide information about people in secret detention. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military detention. However, there have been no indications of any official inquiry by Thai authorities into reports of torture and mistreatment in military custody.

The use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians is likely to continue under section 44, Human Rights Watch said. Three days after seizing power on May 22, 2014, the NCPO issued its 37th order, which replaced civilian courts with military tribunals for some offenses – including actions violating penal code articles 107 to 112, which concern lese majeste crimes, and crimes regarding national security and sedition as stipulated in penal code articles 113 to 118. Individuals who violate the NCPO’s orders have also been subjected to trial by military court. Hundreds of people, most of them political dissidents, have been sent to trials in military courts since the coup.

The imposition of section 44 means the junta’s lifting of martial law is unlikely to lead to improvement of respect for human rights in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said. The junta will have legal justification to continue its crackdown on those exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms. Criticism of the government can still be prosecuted, peaceful political activity banned, free speech censored and subject to punishment, and opposition of military rule not permitted.

“General Prayuth’s action to tighten rather than loosen his grip on power puts the restoration of democratic civilian rule further into the future,” Adams said. “Concerted pressure from Thailand’s allies is urgently needed to reverse this dangerous course.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Thailand, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/thailand

For more information, please contact:
In Bangkok, Sunai Phasuk (English and Thai):+66-81-632-3052 (mobile); or phasuks@hrw.org Twitter: @SunaiBKK
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1-347-463-3531 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org Twitter: @BradAdamsHRW
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org Twitter: @johnsifton