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At least 10 homeless people in Chiang Mai have been arrested for breaking curfew by being outside after 22.00, says Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

The nationwide curfew, announced on 3 April in an attempt to control the spread of Covid-19, prohibits the public from leaving their residences between 22.00 – 4.00. Violators may be punished by up to 2 years in prison, or a fine of up to 40,000 baht, or both.

As the curfew does not take homelessness into account, says TLHR, many people who are living on the streets have been subjected to criminal charges, as officers often enforce the law upon this vulnerable group without understanding their situation. Such legal prosecution only adds to the socio-economic problems these people are already experiencing.

TLHR reported that they have spoken to 2 homeless people about their arrest. The first, Tui (pseudonym), lives at the Warorot Market in Chiang Mai, and was arrested for ‘breaking curfew’. Tui told TLHR that he was stopped by a police officer while crossing the street at around 22.30. The officer told him that it was past curfew and insisted that Tui get in the car.

Tui was taken to the Chiang Mai Provincial Police Station, where he was informed of his charges and was made to sign a confession, without having a lawyer present. He was held at the station for one night before being taken to court the next day.

The Chiang Mai Provincial Court sentenced Tui to 15 days in jail, which was suspended for a year, and a fine of 1,500 baht, which Tui could not afford. Failure to pay a fine usually results in a prison sentence calculated at 500 baht per day, but the Court later decided not to detain Tui for three days, and told him not to repeat his offence before releasing him.

Chart (pseudonym), another homeless person living at the Warorot Market, told TLHR he was also arrested at a checkpoint around Tha Pae Gate. He was taken to the Chiang Mai Provincial Police Station, where he was made to sign a confession, also without a lawyer present, and was held for one night.

He was taken to Court the next day, and received a fine of 3000 baht, which was paid for by a police officer he knows. He told TLHR that he was told to report for a criminal charge he doesn’t quite understand around the end of the month, which TLHR thinks might mean that he has to report to a probation office.

TLHR originally reported that Tui was arrested on 12 April and Chart was arrested on 13 April. The Chiang Mai Provincial Police Station then announced that there were no such arrests on 12 -13 April. TLHR explained that, according to the Chiang Mai Provincial Court database, Tui was arrested on 5 April and Chart on 6 April, and that both may not have remembered the dates of their arrest accurately when they spoke to TLHR.

TLHR also said that they were told by both Tui and Chart, as well as other volunteers who were distributing food to homeless people during the Covid-19 outbreak, that there have been at least 10 cases of homeless people being arrested for breaking curfew, involving both homeless people sleeping in public places and those who were out and about after curfew.

In a Human Rights Watch article, Sunai Phasuk stated that “the lockdown and empty streets mean fewer opportunities for homeless people to earn money. In addition, they face stigmatization and accusations of negligently spreading the virus, as well as disobeying government orders,” while the government “still has not effectively reached out to the homeless population for testing.”

“Government-run shelters are often overcrowded, without sufficient space required for physical distancing, and far from areas that homeless people know and frequent, so they are reluctant to go,” said Sunai.

“Housing has become the front line defence against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation,” said Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, who called on governments to “take extraordinary measures to secure to right to housing for all to protect against the [Covid-19] pandemic” including ensuring “protection of those living in homelessness or grossly inadequate housing” and that “the enforcement of containment measures (e.g. curfews) does not lead to the punishment of anyone based on their housing status.”

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