Photo credit: FORUM ASIA
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Asia Democracy Network (ADN) are deeply concerned about the condition of youth pro-democracy activists who have been on hunger-strike from prison for more than a week. The activists are protesting against their unjust pre-trial detention and are acting in support of other activists who have been exercising their right to protest and freedom of expression in the country. Our organisations call on the government to immediately and unconditionally release all the youth activists and drop all charges against them.
Two youth pro-democracy activists, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong have been on a hunger strike since 18 January 2023. The strike was to express solidarity for fellow youth activists Nutthanit “Bai Por” Duangmusit and Sopon “Get” Surariddhidhamron who were previously granted bail in August 2022 from a lese majeste (royal defamation) charge but this was later revoked on 9 January 2023, for allegedly violating their bail conditions by joining a peaceful protest during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on 17 November 2022 – in which Thailand was hosting as the chair.
The hunger strike began two days after Tawan and Orawan on 16 January requested their bail to be revoked in solidarity with the other two activists. As their health deteriorated, they were transferred to the prison’s hospital from the Bangkok’s Central Women’s Correctional Institution where they were previously detained. Both refused to be fed by an intravenous drip or receive medical care until their demands are met. These demands include: reform of the justice system, an end to prosecution of those exercising freedom of expression, and political support by every party for the repeal of the repressive lese majeste and sedition laws.
The crackdown against critics of the monarchy have occurred since 2020. According to the Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 210 people have been charged with lese majeste – most of them are protest leaders and political activists, between 18 July 2020 until 31 December 2022. The lese majeste charges are not the only law the Thai government has used to stifle fundamental freedoms. Other draconian provisions used include sedition charges under Section 116, charges under the Emergency Decree, charges under the Public Assembly Act, Computer Crime Act, and Contempt of Court, to name a few.
Around a solidarity protest in support of the hunger-strike activists and those in prolonged pre-trial detention for criticising the monarchy scheduled yesterday (Thursday, 26 January 2023), our organisations jointly echo in solidarity the demands made by the activists to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are upheld by the Thai government.
The Thai government must guarantee a safe and enabling environment for individuals, including youth pro-democracy defenders, to exercise their fundamental freedoms in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in which the country is a party. We are concerned that the prolonged pre-trial detention for activists facing lese majeste charges violates Thailand's international human rights obligation under the ICCPR. Article 9 of the Covenant clearly stipulates the State Party's obligation to conduct a trial on criminal offences within a reasonable time. Detention for those awaiting trial should not be mandatory for all defendants charged with a particular crime. Further, the state is obligated to re-examine if pretrial detention has to be extended, whether it is reasonable and necessary for lawful purposes in the light of possible alternatives. The arrest or detention of individuals for the legitimate exercising of their rights, such as freedom of expression, is considered arbitrary.
Therefore, our organisations urge the government to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against activists exercising their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and release them. The government must also end reprisals against activists and review and repeal all provisions and laws, that are used to stifle critics.
Civic space in Thailand is rated as “Repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor.