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A new report published by the human rights group ARTICLE 19 has found that the Thai government’s treatment of pro-democracy protesters violated their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including by exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to enact repressive emergency measures and using the royal defamation law against protesters.

Crowd control police blocking protesters from approaching the Democracy Monument during the anti-government protest on 18 November 2022

The report “Thailand: Denying the demand for democracy,” launched on 15 December, is one of a series of research reports published by ARTICLE 19 in its #FreeToProtest global campaign aiming to protect the right to protest. It focuses on the youth-led pro-democracy protests which started in 2020 in Thailand and whose demands range from democratic and constitutional reform and the repeal of the royal defamation law to reform of the monarchy.

The report found that the Thai authorities exploited the Covid-19 pandemic and used it to enact regulations under the State of Emergency to restrict pro-democracy protests, in addition to the Public Assembly Act. Critics of the monarchy tend to be harshly repressed and portrayed as enemies of the state. Protesters at the Din Daeng intersection, many of whom came from low-income backgrounds, also faced violence. Protesters have faced violent crackdowns and legal prosecutions. Many protest leaders have been charged in relation to their activism, denied bail and kept in pre-trial detention, and have faced extrajudicial harassment, including unofficial surveillance. Meanwhile, protests on other issues and those organized by royalist groups have not faced the same degree of repression.

David Diaz-Jogeiz, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Director of Programmes, said that the Thai government’s response to pro-democracy protests “continues to silence public discourse” as protesters go through a lengthy judicial process and that the right to peaceful protest without harassment or violence must be guaranteed.

“Thailand cannot protect the status quo by restricting civic space.” said Diaz-Jogeix. “Authorities that stand behind the excessive use of repressive legislation continue to elude accountability by placing themselves beyond criticism.”

The report calls on the Thai government to amend the Public Assembly Act and other laws relating to the right to assembly to be in line with international standards, which should include amendments to require protest organizers only to notify relevant authorities so that they can facilitate the protest, not to set conditions on protest activities. Information on notification procedures should also be made publicly available, and online notification should be easily accessible. Officials must facilitate the right to protest and ensure protesters can exercise their rights safely, end all unlawful surveillance and harassment, and protect children’s right to protest. Anyone responsible for the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protesters must be investigated and prosecuted.

The government must also ensure that any derogation of rights during a State of Emergency complies with international human rights standards and is proportionate to the situation. It must also drop all charges against protesters charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. Every movement should also enjoy an equal right to protest, and authorities should refrain from making stigmatizing comments about protesters.

The report also calls on Thai law enforcement to immediately end all use of violence to forcibly disperse peaceful protesters and dispersal must only take place when strictly necessary and in compliance with international standards, as well as be proportionate to the situation. Law enforcement officials should be trained on crowd-control methods and their obligation to facilitate the right to protest and must always be clearly identifiable by their uniforms. The police must also stop the arrest and detention of protesters solely for the exercise of their right to freedom of assembly.

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