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Rights groups call for an end to judicial harassment against activists and journalists

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS has issued a statement raising concerns about the Thai government's prosecution of activists and journalists. They also called the Thai government to drop charges against activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, end its practice of judicial harassment, and review and repeal its repressive laws.

Activists protesting at the Victory Monument in Bangkok on 18 February to demand the release of political prisoners.
(Photo by Ginger Cat)

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS are deeply concerned over the intensifying regression of Thailand’s civic space. We are calling on the Thai Government to do more in upholding fundamental freedoms including freedom of expression, press freedom, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

On 8 February 2024, pro-democracy youth activist Thanalop ‘Yok’ Phalanchai was arrested while protesting at the Bangkok South Criminal Court for political prisoners’ right to bail. The arrest was due to an outstanding warrant regarding a contempt of court charge based on an alleged altercation between activists and a court marshall in October 2023. Yok was later released after the Court reproached her. 

Yok had been previously arrested in March 2023–under the royal defamation law (lèse-majesté) of Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code–for rallying for the release of political detainees. She was detained for 50 days at a juvenile facility until May 2023. At only 15, Yok is one of the youngest children to be charged under the royal defamation law. 

Pro-democracy activist Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom was sentenced to one month in jail in January 2024 for also being involved in the October 2023 altercation. Bung was recently hospitalised following a two-week hunger strike calling for judicial reforms and stronger protection of people’s right to express political opinions.

Weaponizing judicial harassment

On 12 February 2024, journalist Nutthapol Meksobhon and photojournalist Nattaphon ‘Yha’ Phanphongsanon were arrested for their coverage of a graffiti incident way back in March 2023, wherein anti-royal defamation law symbols were spray painted on the wall of Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald within the Grand Palace complex.

Meksobhon works for Prachatai, an independent online news organisation. The two were charged for being accomplices to public vandalism and damaging a historical site. They were later released on bail after posting a 35,000 baht (USD 980) bond each.  

Meanwhile on 13 February, activists Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon and Natthanon ‘Frank’ Chaiamahabut were arrested on charges of sedition, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, and  public disturbance for allegedly honking during a royal motorcade. The two clarified that they had no intention of disrupting the royal motorcade. Both have been denied bail, are currently remanded in prison, and have been subjected to online hate speech. In response to the incident, royallist groups–including government officials–organised a purple rally supporting the royal family. 

In the same week, several courts dismissed bail petitions for 11 political prisoners who have been under pre-trial detention for over a year. The dismissal came amidst a petition–led by civil society organisations–to ask the parliament to consider a draft Amnesty for the People Bill, which seeks to end all politically motivated charges and grant amnesty to those with pending legal cases related to their political expression. Some volunteers who have been collecting signatures for the petition have also faced harassment from the police. 

As of January 2024, at least 1,947 individuals have been prosecuted for their political participation and expression in Thailand including 263 people facing royal defamation charges, according to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Call to action

Pro-democracy and youth activists should not be intimidated nor punished for exercising their right to express political opinions. Prosecuting minors under such grounds is a direct contravention of Thailand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Furthermore, journalists should not be prosecuted for simply doing their jobs. Media workers are instrumental in exposing injustices, demanding accountability, and preserving people’s right to information. Prosecuting journalists for their coverage on the ground creates a chilling effect on press freedom in the country. 

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand is obliged to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of its people. 

The ongoing deterioration of Thailand’s civic space must be urgently addressed as the country  is moving to pledge its candidacy to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2025-2027 term. As a potential HRC member, Thailand must uphold higher standards of fulfilling its human rights obligations. 

FORUM-ASIA and CIVICUS urge the Thai Government to cease the practice of repressing the people’s political participation and expression through judicial harassment. The government should review and repeal its repressive laws. Likewise, it must drop politically-motivated and false charges against activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and anyone expressing political dissent.

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