At the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s award ceremony for the 2023 Albie Awards, lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) during their acceptance speech addressed the prosecution and detention of activists charged for political expression.
Lawyers Sirikan Charoensiri (second from left) and Pavinee Chumsri (second from right) with Amal and George Clooney, co-founders of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, at the award ceremony. (Photo from TLHR)
TLHR was named a winner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice 2023 Albie Awards and presented with the Foundation’s annual Justice for Democracy Defenders Award for their work defending those who have been prosecuted for peaceful protest and speech.
Formed in the days after the May 2014 military coup, when the military was summoning and arresting dissidents and trying civilians in military courts, TLHR has provided pro bono legal representation for activists and members of the public prosecuted for political expression and charged under laws which violate basic civil and political rights, including the Computer-Related Crime Act, the Public Assembly Act, the royal defamation law, and the sedition law.
They have also documented and monitored human rights violations in the country since the coup. Their reports are published on their website and social media accounts as news articles, reports, legal opinions, and public statements to raise public awareness about these violations.
Lawyers Pavinee Chumsri and Sirikan Charoensiri attended the award ceremony on 28 September at the New York Public Library.
In her acceptance speech, Sirikan addressed the prosecution of Thai citizens for political expression, many of whom are children. She said that the last few years have seen a new generation of pro-democracy activists, noting that the young people who participated in the movement “paid a huge price for their fight for democracy” and that around 300 children have been charged under repressive laws. TLHR’s youngest client is only 12 years old, Sirikan said, noting that the boy was arrested after he cycled to a protest to observe it.
She also spoke about human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa, who has been detained pending appeal since 26 September after he was sentenced to 4 years in prison for royal defamation. Anon was subsequently denied bail after the Appeal Court ruled that he is a flight risk and that his offence “damaged the democratic regime with the King as the head of state” and is now detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
“Thai Lawyers for Human Rights would not exist today had Thai people not stood up against an authoritarian regime that was hiding in plain sight, in legal institutions, in legal codes, in the military-drafted constitution,” Sirikan said. She asked for continued support from the international community for the Thai pro-democracy movement and for them to keep an eye on the situation in Thailand.
At least 25 people are currently held in detention pending trial or appeal on charges relating to protests or other forms of political expression; 10 of them are held on royal defamation charges.
TLHR’s acceptance speech by Sirikan Charoensiri at New York Public Library, Sep 28, 2023
First of all, thank you so much Amal, George, the Clooney Foundation For Justice, and to you all who are here tonight for shedding a spotlight to our work and situation in Thailand. In times of darkness, people like you are a ray of sunshine to us, making our difficult days brighter and not so lonely.
Many of you must have been to Thailand, the land of smile, beautiful beaches, and delicious food.
Everyday we live with a beautiful smile, yet with our eyes seeking for justice. We laugh a lot just to feel powerful, when those in power want us to feel powerless.
Did you know that, in Thailand, speaking out about the privileged Thai royals or demanding democratic reforms might land you in prison? These implausible scenarios are all too real for us.
I’d like to start with the story of my dear friend and fellow attorney at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Mr. Arnon Nampa, who is currently in prison because he was prosecuted for his political speeches and peaceful activisms.
In fact, on Tuesday he was just sent to jail for insulting the Thai monarch, a crime with punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Mr. Arnon is a father of a 10-month-old son and a young daughter.
One time, Mr. Arnon temporarily came out of pretrial detention to go to court barefoot while in a brown prison uniform. He then asked us, “where’s my attorney gown?“, then he wore it over his prison uniform, and continued doing his job defending the rights of young movement leaders who were being prosecuted for speaking truth to power.
When law is the state’s weapon of choice, lawyers must stand their ground, face this act of aggression, and safeguard the rule of law and democracy.
Despite decades long of democracy in decline, the wind of change has finally arrived.
We have seen a new generation of pro-democracy movements, using the three-finger salute as a symbol of resistance. We’ve seen thousands of youth in the movement, some of whom have paid a huge price for their fight for democracy.
Since 2020, almost 300 children have been charged under various repressive laws for their fight to secure a better future. Our youngest client was just twelve years old who was arrested at a protest, merely because he cycled from his home to observe it.
We say children are our future generation. Yet, Thailand has robbed this generation of children of their future.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights would not exist today had Thai people not stood up against an authoritarian regime that was hiding in plain sight, in legal institutions, in legal codes, in the military-drafted constitution.
We still have a long way to go toward true democracy,
The fight for justice is never easy,
but as the dawn always comes
change for a better future is now in our hands.
We’ll persist until it’s no longer a matter of fight, but a matter of fact.
We’ll need your love,
your continued support
Please do not forget us and what has really happened in Thailand.