Thailand Urged to Allow Freedom of Expression

OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. Photo: UN Multimedia
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani. Photo: UN Multimedia

The United Nations human rights arm expressed Friday its concern about the mounting constraints on the democratic space in Thailand – calling for a prompt return to civilian rule.

“Following the military coup in May 2014, severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and opinion and assembly have been in place through the use of criminal and military laws and orders, said spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani of the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

She elaborated that restrictions spiked in the lead-up to this month’s Constitutional Referendum.

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“Overall, at least 1,300 people have been summoned, arrested or charged, and 1,629 civilians tried before the military courts,” the spokesperson explained. “Since June, at least 115 people have been arrested or charged under military orders, criminal codes and the Constitution Referendum Act for expressing their opinion on the draft constitution or reporting human rights violations, including torture,” she added.

Twelve people arrested in the Chiang Mai Province in late July remained in detention, along with a student activist who was incarcerated on 6 August. The others were released, but have been charged or remained under investigation.

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“We urge Thailand to immediately drop all charges against political activists and human rights defenders, and to release those jailed for voicing dissent on the draft charter in the run-up to the referendum,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “We also call on the authorities to suspend the use of military courts and military orders in cases involving civilians.”

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She made clear of the urgency in implementing the measures as Thailand moves towards its 2017 election – as proposed in the military Government’s roadmap to restore democracy.

The election next year represents an opportunity for Thailand to meet the commitment it made at the UN Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review in May to respect freedom of expression and, therefore, guarantee a more inclusive and participatory process that involves all political parties, civil society and the media in an open and non-threatening environment.

RMN News

Rakesh Raman