Updated at 4:56 p.m. ET on 2019-05-16
Malaysia extradited a woman wanted by Thailand for anti-monarchy activities after Bangkok requested her deportation, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday, but a leading human rights group said the move violated legal obligations because the deportee had sought asylum abroad.
Praphan Pipithnamporn, who was registered as an asylum seeker by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was sent back to Thailand on May 10 after Malaysian police arrested her last month on Bangkok’s request, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
“If there is a request, then we will send back,” Mahathir told a news conference. “(We are a) good neighbor.”
Praphan was sent home based on a January arrest warrant issued by Thai authorities, who accused her of sedition for alleged involvement with the Organization for Thai Federation, a peaceful anti-monarchy group, HRW said in a statement.
“Malaysia’s flouting of international law has placed a Thai activist at grave risk of arbitrary detention and an unjust prosecution in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Malaysian authorities have an obligation to protect asylum seekers like Praphan from being forcibly returned to the risk of being persecuted for their peaceful political views,” he said.
Praphan’s deportation came on the same day that Thai authorities denied knowledge about the possible extradition from Vietnam of three critics of Thailand’s monarchy and military junta.
The Vietnamese government returned Thai citizens Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut and Kritsana Thapthai to Thailand on May 8, HRW and Amnesty International (AI) said in separate statements last Friday. The two groups based their information on reports from Thai media and a local NGO, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights.
‘Person of concern’
Prior to fleeing to Malaysia, Praphan was arrested several times between September and December 2018, and held in incommunicado military detention, HRW said.
The threats against her intensified after she participated in peaceful anti-monarchy activity during the birthday memorial for the late King Rama IX on Dec. 5, she claimed in an interview with HRW. On that day, she wore a black T-shirt with a logo of her group and handed out leaflets criticizing the monarchy in a Bangkok shopping mall, the rights group said.
Praphan fled to Malaysia in January, and applied for refugee status with UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur. On April 2, the refugee agency registered her claim as an asylum seeker and designated her a “person of concern,” HRW said.
The Socialist Party of Malaysia, an opposition party, meanwhile expressed concerns Tuesday over Praphan’s deportation. It slammed Mahathir’s government “for behaving like an accomplice of the Thai military junta in suppressing dissent and limiting democratic space.”
“Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad should realize that aiding an undemocratic regime in persecution of pro-democracy political activists, is not something a ‘good neighbor’ should do,” said Choo Chon Kai, the party’s international bureau coordinator.
Expelled from Vietnam
The three Thai activists deported by Vietnam – Chucheep, Siam and Kritsana – had been arrested in Hanoi for illegal entry and using fake travel documents as they tried to flee persecution from Thai authorities, HRW said. Rights groups said the three men were being held in Bangkok.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters last week that he learned of the three men’s extradition only from news websites. “The confirmation must come from the Foreign Ministry and special branch of police,” he said.
Thai authorities had accused the three of broadcasting anti-monarchy radio programs over the internet in violation of the kingdom’s strict Lese-Majeste, according to HRW. That law criminalizes royal defamation and carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years.
“Neighboring countries should not be contributing to Thailand’s increasingly dire human rights situation by sending asylum seekers into harm’s way,” Adams said in his statement.
The reported extradition of the three Thai dissidents occurred after Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger working for the Vietnamese Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) – a BenarNews sister service – disappeared from a shopping mall near Bangkok in January. He had fled Vietnam in 2017 to escape arrest over his activism.
In late March, RFA’s Vietnamese Service confirmed that agents from Hanoi had taken Nhat back to Vietnam. That fueled suspicions that Thai authorities had cooperated in his abduction. The blogger was now in a jail cell in the Vietnamese capital, Nhat’s daughter told RFA.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that RFA had confirmed Thai authorities had cooperated in Nhat's abduction.