Thai authorities must immediately drop all arbitrary restrictions on human rights and peaceful political activities as well as charges against peaceful critics before elections expected next February, Amnesty International said today ahead of a critical meeting between the ruling military government and political parties.
The Thai military government has provisionally scheduled general elections for 24 February 2019. If held, these would be the first elections since it seized power in a coup in 2014.
The government is expected to meet with political parties today to discuss ’political plans and processes leading towards the general election.’
“Since the coup, the regime has imposed a raft of repressive and unwarranted bans on political activity and the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression,” said Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand Campaigner. “Thailand’s military government has pledged to lift these in the future, as it proceeds with a roadmap towards elections. But so far, the junta has taken virtually no steps towards fulfilling this promise.”
Reinstating and respecting rights
At this meeting, Thai authorities must announce immediate measures to allow people to fully exercise their rights without fear of imprisonment and harassment. They must allow people to receive and distribute information online and from the media, engage in public debate and campaigns, gather peacefully and demonstrate, criticise politicians and express diverse or dissenting viewpoints without fear of imprisonment or persecution.
The authorities should also send a clear signal of their commitment to uphold these rights by dropping charges – and repealing convictions – of all individuals targeted solely for peacefully exercising their rights.
Ending legal harassment of peaceful critics
Most recently, charges have been brought against the heads of the Seri Thai and Freedom Forward political parties, against whom officials have raised criminal complaints in September and earlier this month.
In September, political parties were given limited permissions to meet and elect party heads – taken by many as a sign that elections were going ahead and that further political restrictions would be removed. But that same month, authorities charged the Future Forward Party with violating the Computer Crimes Act for posting perceived criticism of authorities on Facebook.
“As the junta moves closer to holding these elections, they continue a pattern of legally harassing their opponents into silence,” said Katherine Gerson. “For too long, the military government has used public order as a pretext to shield themselves from criticism and cling to draconian controls on people coming together and speaking their mind.”
As a first step, authorities must fully lift the arbitrary restrictions – including under Head of National Council for Peace and Order r 3/2015 – on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. “These bans have severely damaged Thailand’s human rights, political life – and reputation,” said Katherine Gerson.
Across Thailand, hundreds of students, academics, journalists, lawyers, activists and others are facing decades in jail for peaceful criticism, gathering in public, calling for their rights to be restored or simply calling for elections.
“No one will be fooled by further superficial tweaks to today’s restrictive status quo,” said Katherine Gerson. “While Thai authorities have said they may lift some restrictions from next week, they must go all the way. The government must end its use of fear, intimidation and imprisonment against individuals who are peacefully speaking their mind.”