NGOs: Drop all charges against 16 Thai student activists

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Police move in to detain anti-coup protesters gathered in central Bangkok on May 22, 2015 - Reuters/malaymailonline pic.

Over 40 human right groups have endorsed a letter to the Thai authorities urging them to drop all charges against 16 student human rights defenders who were arrested after holding peace assemblies.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha,
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO),

Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang,
Royal Thai Police Commissioner-General

Thai Chief of Judge Advocate General

Dear General Chan-ocha, General Pumpanmuang and Chief of Judge Advocate General,

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, write to you regarding the charges against 16 student and allied activists (seven from the Dao Din student group based at Khon Kaen University, and nine from Bangkok), 14 of whom were detained from 26 June to 8 July 2015 in Bangkok. These 16 students have been charged for their role in peaceful public assemblies on 22 May 2015 commemorating the first-year anniversary of the May 2014 military coup.

The 14 who were detained for 12 days are facing additional sedition charges, which were used on 26 June 2015 to arrest them. These 14 students from the Neo-Democracy Movement were taken to Bangkok Military Court around midnight on 26 June 2015, when the Military Court granted the Royal Thai Police’s request for pre-trial detention for a 12-day period.

The 14 students are being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women’s Correctional Institution. The same Bangkok Military Court rejected the Royal Thai Police’s request to extend the pre-trial detention on 7 July 2015. The 14 were released 24 hours after the decision on 8 July 2015, but they are still facing all the charges filed against them.

The 14 who were detained for 12 days include seven members of a Khon Kaen-based student group: Mr Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Mr Apiwat Suntararak, Mr Payu Boonsopon, Mr Panupong Srithananuwat, Mr Suvicha Tipangkorn, Mr Supachai Pukrongploy and Mr Wassant Saetsit. All were initially arrested on 22 May 2015 when they staged a peaceful protest in Khon Kaen against the effects of military rule on community rights, human rights and the poor in northeast Thailand. They were granted bail after having been charged by the Khon Kaen Military Court for violating Order No. 3/2558 (3/2015) issued by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Similarly, the seven Bangkok-based university students and allies – Mr Rattapol Supasupon, Mr Rangsiman Rome, Mr Songtham Kaewpanpruk, Ms Chonthicha Jaengraew, Mr Apisit Sapnapaphan, Mr Pakorn Areekul, and Mr Pornchai Yuanyee – who staged a peaceful protest in central Bangkok on 22 May 2015 have been charged with violating NCPO Order 3/2558. The sedition charges for all 14 students, under Section 116 of the Thai Penal Code, follow the students’ peaceful demonstrations against your military government in Bangkok on 24-25 June 2015.

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We condemn the use and existence of Order 3/2558, because this order invokes all NCPO Orders issued between 22 May 2014 and 1 April 2015, which have effectively suspended all civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms on unjustifiable grounds of “national security.” Article 116 of the Thai Penal Code is a severe and unacceptable restriction on freedom of speech which is used to criminalise political activists.

Order 3/2558, issued by virtue of Article 44 of the Interim Constitution 2557 B.E., gives sweeping powers and provides blanket immunity to your military government. It allows the militarisation of all law-enforcement and state operations. For example, this Order enables the continued use of military courts and military personnel to carry out measures under the Criminal Procedure Code. Furthermore, officials exercising duties under this Order enjoy full immunity from both disciplinary and criminal justice procedures.

The use of military courts to try civilians is a blatant violation of international fair trial rights, as guaranteed by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, and is legally bound to implement.

Article 14, Paragraph 1, enshrines the principle of trials being conducted by a “competent, independent and impartial tribunal.” This principle is violated by the use of military courts to try civilians; especially when the military controls all branches of state power, including the executive, legislative, and now, judicial branches.

Article 14, Paragraph 5, explicitly guarantees the right to judicial review of any conviction and sentence by a higher court, which is a right denied to anyone tried in a military court in Thailand.

Furthermore, we decry the harassment and intimidation of the students and allies’ groups. The ICCPR imposes legally-binding obligations on State Parties to respect a number of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression (Article 19) and the right to peaceful assembly (Article 21).

We also call your attention to Article 17 of the ICCPR which guarantees the right to protection from “arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, [and] to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”

State authorities stand in direct violation of this right as they have carried out a constant campaign of intimidation and harassment of the students’ affinity groups. Uniformed officials (both police and military) have been photographing the students’ parents houses; authorities have been questioning parents on the upbringing of their children; Khon Kaen University has been pressured to call all the students’ parents in for a meeting where authorities lectured the parents on 11 June 2015; and soldiers, police and other authorities have been threatening repercussions if community-based human rights defenders associate with the Dao Din student group again.

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Finally, your Orders as head of the NCPO violate the rights and freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law, which continues to apply to Thailand under the Interim Constitution. Most directly, Article 25 of the ICCPR enshrines the right to participate in public affairs for people. The suspension of elections, community rights, community participation in environmental and natural resource management policy are all violations of Article 25. The absolute power you hold, as per Article 44 of the Interim Constitution, effectively guts this right.

The students and allies’ commemorative activities on 22 May 2015 and their pro-democracy demonstrations on 24-25 June 2015 expressed their opposition to these systematic and institutional violations of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It must be underlined that Article 19 of the ICCPR also guarantees the right to hold any opinion and express it by any media. Thus, students have throughout all their activities been peacefully exercising their own human rights and fundamental freedoms to decry your military government’s violations of the Thai people’s human rights.

The legal persecution of these students and their allies, and the authorities’ harassment of the students’ affinity groups are direct breaches of international human rights law. If these charges are pressed against students and allies and the military court declares them guilty, they would be political prisoners of your repressive regime.

These civic-minded students and allies and all community-based human rights defenders they work with deserve recognition, not criminalisation. Socially-conscious individuals, especially youth, who engage in peaceful actions to promote human rights are essential to an open and democratic society and contribute to social justice.

Therefore, we urge you to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges and end all legal proceedings against the 16 students and their allies;
  2. Immediately stop the harassment of the students and their allies’ lawyers by authorities;
  3. Stop all harassment and intimidation of the students and their allies’ affinity groups, including the students’ family members, fellow students, friendship groups, community-based support groups, citizen journalists, and academics;
  4. Immediately revoke all NCPO Orders and Article 44 of the Interim Constitution and promptly return all executive and legislative branches of state power to democratically elected civilians.
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Signed:

  1. Aliran (Malaysia)
  2. Article 19
  3. Arus Pelangi (Indonesia)
  4. Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR, Asean)
  5. Asean Youth Forum (Asean)
  6. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (Burma/Myanmar)
  7. Arakan Observer Group (Arakan, Burma)
  8. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC, Arakan, Burma)
  9. Australian Burmese Rohingya Association (ABRA, Australia)
  10. Australia Asia Worker Links (Australia)
  11. Australian Unions (ACTU, Australia)
  12. Cambodian Human Rights and Development (ADHOC, Cambodia)
  13. Centre for Development Resources (Cenford, Vietnam)
  14. Cross-Cultural Foundation (Thailand)
  15. Committee for Asian Women and Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (Malaysia)
  16. De Nieuwe Universiteit (The Netherlands)
  17. Democratic Commission for Human Development (Pakistan)
  18. Focus on the Global South
  19. Globalisation Monitor
  20. Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Youth Section (KLSCAHYS, Malaysia)
  21. Malaysia Support Group for democracy in Thailand (Malaysia)
  22. Malaysians against Death Penalty & Torture (Malaysia)
  23. Malaysian Youth and Students’ Democratic Movement (Dema, Malaysia)
  24. Migrante International
  25. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization (Merhrom, Malaysia)
  26. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (Sri Lanka)
  27. National Free Trade Union (Sri Lanka)
  28. North South Initiative
  29. Socialist Party of Malaysia (Malaysia)
  30. Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on Asean (Asean)
  31. Pax Romana ICMICA Asia
  32. Pax Romana International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) Asia Pacific
  33. People Like Us Satu Hati (Plush, Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
  34. People’s Empowerment Foundation (Thailand)
  35. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Malaysia)
  36. Protection International
  37. Rohingya American Society (RARS, Milwaukee, USA)
  38. Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC, Malaysia)
  39. Rohingya Concern International (RCI, New York, USA)
  40. Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYDF, Arakan, Burma)
  41. Think Centre (Singapore)Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (Vietnam)
  42. Worker Hub for Change (Malaysia)

Individual endorsements

  1. David Anthony
  2. David Suber, co-President of the Students Union of the London School of Oriental and African Studies (United Kingdom)
  3. Jonelle Twum, supporter from Sweden
  4. K Aingkaran, Attorney-at-Law, supporter from Sri Lanka
  5. Niza Concepcion, supporter from the Philippines
  6. Dr Paiboon Hengsuwan, Lecturer of Department of Women’s Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University (Thailand)
  7. Rahmayana Fitri, leader of Youth Development at The Leader and Peace activist in Aceh (Indonesia)
  8. Dr Ronald McCoy, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility (Malaysia)
  9. Shruti Upadhyay
  10. S K Priya, 110 Law Chambers (India)
  11. William Nicholas Gomes, human rights defender and freelance journalist (United Kingdom)
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