A letter from several UN bodies was released on 4 July, raising concerns about the prosecution and detention of 15-year-old activist Thanalop Phalanchai for royal defamation and asking for explanations from the Thai government.
The letter, dated to 5 May, was issued by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), and the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, after Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) filed an urgent appeal with the UNWGAD on her behalf while she was in detention.
In the appeal, TLHR raised concerns about the circumstances of her arrest, noting that the police initially claimed she was arrested as an accomplice to an artist who spray-painted protest symbols on the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is not related to the charges state on her arrest warrant. TLHR also noted that it is unclear what evidence the Central Juvenile and Family Court was using when it ruled that Thanalop could be a danger to others or that she was a flight risk.
The Court order also goes against the Juvenile and Family Court and Juvenile and Family Case Procedure Act, which states that a child’s best interests must take priority when a court is ordering their detention, and that detention must be used only as a last resort. Thanalop’s arrest was also not in line with the law, since she was dragged into an interrogation room and searched without her consent while officers sat on her and inappropriately touched her.
TLHR said that Thanalop’s arrest is considered arbitrary arrest, since it is not in line with the law and because the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says that any deprivation of rights and liberty must be in accordance with the law. It also says that any detention on a royal defamation charge is arbitrary, since the law itself is not clear and relies too much on the discretion of law enforcement to the point that the public does not know what goes against the law or not.
The letter from the two Special Rapporteurs and the UNWGAD said that they are concerned by the charges brought against Thanalop and the excessive use of force by the police, noting that no one should be held criminally liable for participating in a peaceful assembly and free expression in the defence of human rights.
The letter also said that, if confirmed, Thanalop’s prosecution would be in violation of international human rights law, particularly articles 19 and 21 of the ICCPR, to which Thailand has acceded.
The two Special Rapporteurs and the UNWGAD asked the Thai authorities for “additional information and/or comments” on Thanalop’s prosecution, an explanation on the charges against her and how these are compatible with the ICCPR, and explanation on what measures has been taken to bring the royal defamation law in line with international standards in line with recommendations from Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures and the Human Rights Committee.
The letter also called on all necessary interim measures to be taken to end these violations and prevent their reoccurrence while awaiting a reply, and that those responsible for these violations be held accountable.
The Permanent Mission of Thailand in Geneva issued a reply dated 9 May stating that the letter has been forwarded to relevant agencies in Thailand, and that information received from these agencies will be transmitted to the two Special Rapporteurs and the UNWGAD in due course.