The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express grave concern about the arrest of Prom Jarana (64 years old), a human rights defender and land rights activist with the Assembly of the Poor in Kaobart Village, Nondindaeng District, Buriram province. According to information provided by Protection International and the Assembly of the Poor to the AHRC, Prom was arrested by a group of soldiers and police at his home at 10:30 am on 17 July 2014 and taken to a military camp. His arrest comes after weeks of intimidation and threatened evictions against the community. Prom’s family was not informed of where or why he was being taken.
The arbitrary arrest and detention of Prom Jarana is a component of the attack on human rights which has taken place following the 22 May 2014 coup in Thailand. Led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the NCPO took power and abrogated the constitution in Thailand. During the first seven weeks of rule by the junta, there have been severe restrictions placed on freedom of expression and political freedom, ongoing formal and informal summons to report to the junta, extensive use of arbitrary detention, the activation of military courts to process dissidents, a targeted attack on poor and dispossessed people and the creation of a general climate of fear detrimental to human rights and the rule of law. Under the terms of martial law, which were put in place two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. People arrested can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased.
Prom Jarana is a resident and human rights defender in Kaobart Village, Nondindaeng District, Buriram province. The village has had a longstanding conflict with the Thai state over their right to live in the forest. The actions against he and his fellow villagers have been justified by the NCPO through two orders related to state forest policy. NCPO Order No. 64/2557 , issued on 14 June 2014, provided government agencies with additional power to suppress and stop encroachment in land designated as forest. NCPO Order No. 66/2557 , issued on 17 June 2014, created a special unit of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), an agency comprised of military, police, and civilian officials, to aid in the enforcement of NCPO Order No. 64/2557 . Although the NCPO insisted that the actions of the officials must not harm poor people, thus far, the policies seem designed to do so.
On 28 June 2014, a group of approximately 50 fully-armed army, police and forest officials entered the village. The villagers were informed the army wanted to reclaim the land and the villagers had to dismantle their houses and leave the village. If the villagers refused to do so, the officials would return to dismantle their houses and evict them. The attack on Prom Jarana and Kaobart Village is not an isolated incident, but are part of a broader pattern that has affected more than 300 households and total of more than 1,000 people. The Asian Human Rights Commission has received reports that between 27 June and 2 July, army, police, and forestry officials have carried out similar campaigns of intimidation and threatened evictions in other parts of Buriram province, including Saeng Sawan,Talat Khwai, Pa Mamuang, Klong Hin Mai, and Sam Salueng villages. A group of 10 village leaders from Saeng Sawan village were arbitrarily detained without charge for seven days at the Somdet Chaophraya Mahakasatsuk; the villagers were never informed of the reason for their detention. In all of these villages, the villagers were told to dismantle their houses and leave the village. They were given until 7 to 10 July, before the officials would return to forcibly evict them. While the officials have not yet returned to forcibly evict the villagers, surveillance and intimidation of the villagers continues, and the villagers live with a constant threat of eviction.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms and wishes to express grave concern about the rapid decline of human rights protections it has engendered. The AHRC calls for the immediate release of Prom Jarana and all those who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained by the National Council for Peace and Order for their work defending human rights. Further, the AHRC calls on the NCPO and all other state security officials in Thailand to cease using the coup and the imposition of martial law as the justification to disregard human rights. To defend human rights is not a crime.