Civil society network petitions UNOHCHR to call for amnesty bill

The Network for People’s Amnesty, a network of civil society organizations, has filed a letter with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) asking the Office to call on the Thai government to pass an amnesty bill for human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.

Activists and representatives of the Network for People's Amnesty in front of the UN headquarters in Bangkok on 22 January 2024 before submitting their letter. (Photo by Chanakarn Laosarakham/iLaw)

The letter, addressed to Acting Regional Representative Katia Chirizzi, notes that Thailand is seeking membership of the UN Human Rights Council and calls on the UNOHCHR to press the Thai government to pass an amnesty bill before the UN Human Rights Council election in October 2024. Whether the government passes a comprehensive amnesty bill that includes those charged with royal defamation, the letter says, is “a litmus test for its commitments for human rights and its readiness to assume the full responsibilities and duties that come with the UN Human Rights Council membership.”

The network also calls on the UNOHCHR to urge the Thai government to

  1. guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,
  2. refrain from criminalizing dissent by prosecuting individuals, especially children, engaging in peaceful speeches and public assemblies,
  3. release all prisoners of conscience, including children detained for political expression,
  4. amend the royal defamation law to bring it into line with international standards, and
  5. support the passing of the amnesty bill so that it becomes law within 2024.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 1938 people have been prosecuted for political expression between 18 July 2020 and 31 December 2023, at least 286 of whom are under the age of 18. At least 262 people have been charged with royal defamation, while at least 138 people have been charged with sedition.

TLHR reported that at least 25 people are currently held in detention pending trial or appeal on charges relating to political expression and participation in pro-democracy protests. Of this number, 16 are detained on a royal defamation charge, 2 of whom are minors held in juvenile detention centres.

At least 13 people are also serving prison sentences on charges relating to political expression after a final verdict has been reached or following a decision not to appeal. Of this number, 6 people are detained for royal defamation.

TLHR lawyer Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen said that the network will be discussing with representatives of the UNOHCHR about the situation regarding politically motivated prosecution, which has not improved even after the May 2023 general election. She noted that that people continue to be charged for political expression, and that a man was sentenced last week to 50 years in prison for royal defamation. In most cases, people have been prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and should not be charged to begin with, Poonsuk said, noting that granting them amnesty would be a way of reducing political conflict.

The Network for People’s Amnesty previously announced that it is preparing to propose an amnesty bill for those facing charges for taking part in political protests since 2006, including those charged with royal defamation. Poonsuk said that the network is launching a campaign from 1 to 14 February to collect signatures so the bill can be introduced to parliament.

Noting the Thai government’s intention to run as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, Poonsuk said that it should be seeking a seat with dignity and should take the opportunity to resolve political conflict by ending prosecution of protesters and activists and granting amnesty.

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