Thailand: Academics Call For UN to Probe Rights Abuses Under Junta

Nontarat Phaicharoen
2016.05.06
Bangkok
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160506-TH-intellectuals-620.jpg Student activist Siriwith “Ja New” Serithiwat speaks to reporters in Bangkok, April 20, 2016.
AFP

A group of Thai academics is petitioning the U.N. to investigate Thailand’s crackdown on dissent as tensions build over a constitutional referendum in August.

“We strongly urge the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to take a firm stance against the military government and the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] to help put an immediate end to the atrocious violations of human rights in Thailand,” the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights said Thursday on Facebook, using the Thai junta’s official name.

The academics pointed to recent arrests of at least eight people who posted messages on social media that allegedly criticized the government over an Aug. 7 referendum on a proposed, military-backed constitution. A new law prohibits people from campaigning in the run-up to the vote.

"If the U.N. acknowledges the problems, when Thai representatives participate internationally the Thai government will have to seriously respond to the human rights violations,” Professor Anusorn Unno, dean of sociology and anthropology Thammasat University in Bangkok, told BenarNews.

On Friday, Thai authorities arrested another person under Lese-Majeste, the country's royal defamation law. Patnaree Charnkij, the mother of leading pro-democracy activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwit, turned herself into police on an arrest warrant for allegedly defaming the monarchy and violating Thailand’s computer-crimes law.

Attorney Arnon Nampa, who represents Patnaree, said on Facebook that his client was charged for not dissuading another user of the social media network from posting messages online that could be construed as defamatory to royals.

Under Lese-Majeste, anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” faces up to 15 years in prison.

‘Never been abused’

Anusorn and other academics behind the petition also cited the arrests of others accused of violating Lese-Majeste, as well as the expansion of military powers through Article 44 of the interim constitution and other decrees issued by the junta since it seized power from a civilian-led government two years ago.

“Over time, political dissenters have faced arrest, abduction and torture while a large number of people, including university students, academics, journalists, social activists and politicians have faced constant threats and harassment in various forms for criticizing the military government and the NCPO,” the petitioners said.

“Such … control and curtailing of rights and freedom of expression have intensified during the time when the country is preparing for the draft constitution referendum,” they added.

In petitioning the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights also accused the military of abducting anti-government critics and holding detainees at undisclosed sites for more than 24 hours to extract information from them.

Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the deputy spokesman for the prime minister’s office, denied the allegations contained in the academics’ petition, saying no one had been mistreated while in custody.

“[T]he perpetrators have never been abused. I want the academic network to prove [this] with evidence. Do not believe such information is true from just hearing or reading from social media, without [checking the facts],” he told reporters on Thursday.

UN airs concerns

The United Nations did not respond immediately to the petition from the academics, but two weeks ago the U.N.’s human rights chief voiced concern about Thailand’s widening crackdown on dissent.

“An open and dynamic public debate on the draft constitution would foster national unity, strengthen the legitimacy and acceptance of the constitution and provide a sense of collective ownership,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement issued on April 22.

The proposed constitution is controversial because it contains a clause that would allow the junta to hand pick all 250 members of the Thai senate, including six officers from the military’s top brass.

“I urge the government to actively encourage, rather than discourage, dialogue and engagement on the draft constitution. This would be an important step in establishing a solid foundation for a sustainable democracy in Thailand.”

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