Thailand in darkness

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A host of regional NGOs have called for the revocation of the Emergency Declaration and the full restoration of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand.

Photo credit: Marwaan Macan-Markar/IPS

We, the undersigned organisations, groups and networks, are extremely perturbed about the deterioration of human rights and universally recognised freedoms in Thailand .

In response to people’s exercise of their freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful protest, the government of Thailand responded with force and violence that to date has resulted in about 88 deaths, the majority of whom were civilians, and injured some 1,800 people.

On 7 April 2010, the Thai government invoked Thailand’s Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, B.E. 2548 (2005), and placed Bangkok and 23 other provinces under a State of Emergency, allegedly to deal with the peaceful anti-government protests led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). The red-shirt protest was crushed by the Thai government using the military on 19 May. On 6 July, the Thai government has unreasonably extended the state of emergency in 19 provinces, including Bangkok citing, the reason for doing so as “to prevent possible violent or unlawful activities”.

On 13 July, the Thai government announced that the emergency decree in the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat would be extended by another three months, from 20 July 20 to 19 Oct. These regions have been under a state of emergency for the last five years.

Thailand’s Emergency Decree on public administration in emergency situation

The declaration of a state of emergency allows the Prime Minister and his Council of Minister wide powers that include prohibition of movement, assembly, peaceful protest, freedom of expression, flow of information, restriction on press freedom, arrest and detention without trial for up to 30 days, power to summon persons to go to the authorities and/or to produce documents, power to violate privacy of personal communications and to suspend any contact or communications.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee that considered Thailand’s Emergency Decree and in their report [CCPR/CO/84/THA/2005] did say that it does not explicitly specify, or place sufficient limits, on the derogations from the rights protected by the Covenant [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] that may be made in emergencies and does not guarantee full implementation of article 4 of the Covenant. It is especially concerned that the Decree provides for officials enforcing the state of emergency to be exempt from legal and disciplinary actions, thus exacerbating the problem of impunity. Detention without external safeguards beyond 48 hours should be prohibited (art. 4). As the Emergency Decree has not been amended, these observations are still valid today.

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On 18 July 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued a press release calling on Thailand “to repeal emergency regulations that violate human rights law”. The Special Rapporteur also noted that the government had “failed to act on previous calls to bring its emergency regulations into compliance with human rights law” and that “the emergency decree makes it possible for soldiers and police officers get away with murder. Impunity for violence committed by the security forces has been an ongoing problem in Thailand, but the emergency decree has gone even further and makes impunity look like the official policy.”

Arrest and detention

The government, using the powers it has under the Emergency Decree, has arrested and detained over 400 persons without charge for up to 30 days in unofficial places of detention. The Emergency Decree removes the right to challenge a detention before a court (habeas corpus). Moreover, the Emergency Decree fails to provide sufficient protection to prevent abuse and mistreatment. Unlike Thailand ‘s Criminal Procedure Code, the Emergency Decree provides no assurance of prompt access to legal counsel and family members, or effective judicial and administrative safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees, as required by international law.

What is most disturbing is that these arrests are still continuing, and it has now extended to persons who were not even directly involved in the unrest but also persons who have expressed some opinion on the situation in Thailand. Human Rights Watch recently also stated that they have received disturbing reports that journalists, photographers, and medical volunteers have also been ordered to report to the authorities after they publicly stated that they witnessed abuses committed by the security forces.

The numbers of persons that have been arrested by reason of a violation of a Regulation, Notification or Order under the Emergency Decree, which is an offence that, if convicted, carries a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not more than forty-thousand baht, or to both is also not known.

Press freedom and freedom of expression

The right to freedom of expression is essential for the functioning of democracy and guaranteeing other fundamental human rights. However, section 9(3) of the Emergency Decree allows censorship for extremely vague reasons such as “causing misunderstanding of the emergency or affecting the public morals of the people”, which can easily be used to limit legitimate political expression. We are troubled by the fact that the government’s Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES) has applied restrictions on free expression rights both in the area where an emergency situation has been declared and throughout the entire country. There are reports that more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station(PTV), online television channels, newspapers, magazines, and community radio stations have been closed down.

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PTV (also known as People Channel), a satellite TV station, has been closed under the state of emergency.

The government had also blocked at least 36 websites under the state or emergency including Prachatai (www.prachatai.com), Sameskybooks (www.sameskybooks.org), Norporchorusa (www.norporchorusa.com) and Weareallhuman (www.weareallhuman.net). It is said that the order came from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (MICT). Any attempt to access the affected sites from within Thailand yields the message “This website has been blocked by ICT & TOT”.

The recent violence has also resulted in the deaths of two foreign journalists, Hiroyuki Muramoto and Fabio Polenghi and injuries to at least eight other journalists. The recent Investigation Report issued by Reporters Without Borders in July 2010 entitled ‘Thailand: Licence to Kill’ raises many unanswered questions about the actions of the Thai military and other unidentified persons during the recent unrest. It is disturbing to note that autopsies are still not available, and investigations into these incidents have yet to be completed.

On 13 July, Prachatai said that as the government was hunting for people making comments online, it had decided to close the web board for the safety of users. This is yet another example of the killing of freedom of expression and violation of privacy in Thailand using the Emergency Decree.

Transparency requires that the Thai government reveals in detail the list of websites, blogs, e-mail accounts and other internet services that they have invaded, hacked and/or tampered with in its exercise of the powers it has under the Emergency Decree.

Independent inquiry

There is a need for an independent inquiry into all the deaths, injuries and damages to property caused during the recent unrest. It is not proper and will be unsatisfactory for the Thai government to have their own internal investigations, given also the fact that many of the accusation of wrongdoing seem to be levied against the current government and its military. It may be best that the United Nations or Asean be called to conduct an open public inquiry into the unrest, which must definitely include separate inquiries into each of the deaths and serious injury cases. Alternatively, an international panel of reputed persons could be tasked to do this.

This inquiry must also try to identify the alleged armed persons, who the Thai government claims are part of the red-shirt protesters and who were the justification for the use of live bullets in the crackdown on the protesters. The inquiry must also identify those responsible for damaging public and private property. The possibility that agents provocateur were involved must be considered.

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In the interim, Thailand must assure that evidence is not tampered with and/or destroyed. Proper autopsies need to be conducted. It was disturbing to note that in the case of Fabio Polenghi, the Italian photographer, his body was cremated even before his family members were supplied with a thorough autopsy, thus depriving them of the right to request/conduct a second autopsy.

Adequate compensation for victims

Whilst the Emergency Decree states that officials are protected from civil, criminal or disciplinary liabilities, it does not preclude the right of a victim to seek compensation from a government agency under the law on liability for the wrongful acts of officials. A closer reading states that these persons are not protected if their actions/omissions were not done in good faith or were discriminatory or excessive or unreasonable. There should be no protection certainly for those who shot unarmed persons, and in some cases more than once. There should be no justification for the shooting of medical personnel and members of the press.

As such, we, the undersigned organisations, groups and networks, call upon the government of Thailand to:

• Immediately revoke the declaration of emergencies in Thailand;
• Immediately and unconditionally release all persons detained under the Emergency Decrees;
• Restore full press freedom and freedom of expression by allowing all television/radio stations, publications, media portals, and blogs, especially those that were shut down by reason of the Emergency Decree and/or the recent fiasco in Thailand, to immediately function normally without any conditions and/or restrictions;
• Reveal in detail the list of websites, blogs, e-mail accounts and other internet services that they have invaded, hacked and/or tampered with in its exercise of the powers it has under the Emergency Decree, and provide adequate compensation;
• Constitute an independent international panel of inquiry to conduct an open public inquiry into the unrest, which must definitely include separate inquiries into each of the deaths and serious injury cases;
• Pay adequate compensation for the loss of life and injury to victims and/or their families/dependents during this fiasco;
• Pay adequate compensation for the deprivation of liberty under the Emergency Decree;
• Pay adequate compensation for loss and damage of property, including also loss of business and/or income which was caused by reason of actions and/or omissions of the government and its officials during this fiasco and/or during the period of Emergency;
• Repeal immediately the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, B.E. 2548 (2005)

This statement was endorsed by 30 regional NGOs.

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