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Chaiyaphum police summons villager over anti-mining campaign

An anti-mining, LGBT and community-based human rights defender has been summoned by the police after joining the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources in demanding a lock down of mining operations, and to prevent the situation from being exploited to give mining concessions.

An anti-mining villager was summoned by the police in Chaiyaphum Province on Tuesday (28 April 2020) after joining the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resource, a nationwide network which monitors impacts of mining projects on communities, and reading out a statement demanding the government and private sector to put on hold any mining activities during the period when restrictions are imposed to combat spread of Covid-19.

The group stated that even though the draconian Emergency Decree is being enforced to prevent citizens from public activities and gatherings, mining companies still continue their mining activities including mining surveys, operations and approval processes during this pandemic, which affect community members in terms of their rights and participation, as well as health concerns.

Sunthorn Duangnarong (who identifies herself as female), an LGBT+ and community human rights defender from the Rak Bamnet Narong Conservation Group based in Bamnet Narong District, Chaiyaphum Province, was visited by 7 police officers in 3 cars from Hua Thale Police Station in Bamnet Narong District at around 10 am on Tuesday, 28 April 2020, as she was doing agricultural work in the field.

Earlier that day she had joined about 20 other community members, whilst practicing physical and social distancing, in reading out a statement calling on the government and private mining companies to put on hold any mining-related activities for as long as the Covid-19 restrictions are in place. This activity was recorded on camera and subsequently uploaded on the Network’s campaign Facebook page on the morning of 28 April 2020.   

She was arrested and taken to Hua Thale Police Station and was examined by the police without her lawyer being present, or there being any official summons.

We were informed that the Internal Security Command Operations (ISOC) and police in Bangkok found the video clip online and ordered the Hua Thale police to investigate the matter. The police officers informed Sunthorn that they were only examining her as a witness to gather evidence, and would not yet press any charges against her.

However, the police informed her that she may later be charged for violating: 1) the Public Assembly Act as the authorities were not notified beforehand, where the maximum penalty is a fine of 10,000 baht; 2) the Emergency Decree, where the maximum penalty is a fine of 40,000 baht and/or a jail sentence of 2 years; and/or 3) the Communicable Diseases Act, where the maximum penalty is a fine of 20,000 baht.

During the questioning, the police also allegedly made threats against her, asking her not to post such online messages again, otherwise the charges “may arrive faster to you,” according to a community member who witnessed the interview.  

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Protection International Thailand deplores such actions as they violate the people’s rights to exercise their freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

The government must not exploit the pandemic situation to increase the sufferings of the people by intimidation and/or prosecutions of human rights defenders.

The government should not use the draconian Emergency Decree to quash dissent, control the population, or as a means to perpetuate their time in power, as was recommended by UNOHCHR to the government on 27 April 2020. UNOHCHR also emphasized that undermining freedom of expression “may do incalculable damage to the effort to contain COVID-19 and its pernicious socio-economic side-effects.”

Judicial harassment, violence and intimidation against women human rights defenders has increased. Protection International was alarmed by the spike in the number of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who face judicial harassment following the 2014 coup. In 2017, PI reported to CEDAW that 179 community-based WHRDs had been taken to court. Since then, the number of WHRDs in this situation has risen to 440 (2020) despite the recommendation of the CEDAW Committee that the Thai government end judicial harassment of WHRDs.

Many of these are SLAPP lawsuits against community WHRDs, the majority whom are poor urban women facing eviction because of their actions in defending land and natural resources. Thailand, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is duty bound to protect the freedom of expression of its people by ensuring that its laws are aligned with international human rights laws and standards.

Thailand must end judicial harassment of human rights defenders and we call on the State not to use emergency declarations during the COVID-19 crisis to impose wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The government and law enforcement agencies must act to prevent human rights abuses.

We reiterate the demands of the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources that restrictions to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic be also enforced on all mining-related activities. People’s rights and freedoms must never be violated. The government must protect those who speak up about mining operations and their impacts on communities, and ensure non-suppression of HRDs who play a very important role in continuing to care for their livelihoods, communities, society, and the environment.

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