Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: Climate of fear

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-03 16:28
Submitted on Fri, 3 Apr 2020 - 04:28 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Climate of fear

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‘Health before freedom,’ says Prayut while announcing nationwide curfew

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-04-03 16:18
Submitted on Fri, 3 Apr 2020 - 04:18 PMPrachatai

“In prevention and assisting the people, we will follow the principle of health before freedom,” said Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday (2 April) during a televised announcement of a nationwide curfew starting today (3 April), as an additional measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Starting from tonight, the public will be prohibited from leaving their residences between 22.00 – 4.00, with the exception of medical professionals, banking employees, delivery workers and cargo workers transporting essential goods, those traveling to and from an airport, personnel transporting patients to a quarantine location, night shift workers, and other individuals who receive permission from security officers.

Violators may be punished by up to 2 years in prison, or a fine of up to 40,000 baht, or both. 

Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan provinces had previously announced a curfew, while Phuket has closed all of its land and water entry and exit points. Bangkok’s governor Aswin Kwangmuang also announced on Wednesday (1 April) that all restaurants, street food stalls, and convenience stores are to close between midnight and 5.00.

Due to the curfew, the BTS Skytrain and MRT will run until 21.30.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said in a press conference today that this is not a national lockdown, as flights are still allowed to come and go from Thai airports, but foreigners are asked to postpone trips to Thailand.

As of 3 April, Thailand has a total of 1,978 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 19, while 581 patients have so far been discharged. Of the 103 new cases reported today (3 April), 48 are connected to previous confirmed cases, 44 are new cases, and 11 tested positive but the sources of the infection are still under investigation.

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Bangkok businesses to close from midnight to 5 AM

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-02 14:06
Submitted on Thu, 2 Apr 2020 - 02:06 PM

Bangkok’s Governor Aswin Kwanmuang said today (1 April), following a Bangkok Communicable Disease Control meeting, that all restaurants, street food stalls, and convenience stores will be asked to close between midnight and 5.00 am from 2 April in an additional measure to contain the transmission of COVID-19.

The governor also said that rent will be suspended at all of Bangkok’s 11 roaming markets, which have been affected by the Bangkok Metropolitan Agency (BMA)’s COVID-19 control measures.

Aswin insisted that this is not a curfew, and that he will be collaborating with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to press charges against anyone who releases rumours that the BMA will be implementing a curfew.

Meanwhile,  Phuket is now in lockdown after its Provincial Governor Pakkapong Tawipat announced on 29 March the decision to close all entry and exit points, with the exception of air travel, until 30 April, banning all vehicles and vessels from entering the island via its land checkpoint and waterways, except for those carrying essential items or medical emergency vehicles or vessels.

Phuket also closed all its international ports, prohibitng ships and people from entering or leaving the province, except for cargo ships, whose crew will not be allowed to disembark and must leave immediately upon finishing their mission. 

Sumut Prakan’s Provincial Governor Chatchai Utaipan announced yesterday (31 March) that convenience stores within the province will be closed between midnight and 5.00 am. They will also be required to provide hand sanitizer and make sure that there is space for customers to stand at least a metre apart. Customers and staff will also be required to wear face masks at all times.

Markets will also be required to provide hand sanitizers for both sellers and customers. Market managers must also make sure that sellers and customers know they have to wear face masks. 

Nonthaburi has also asked all citizens not to leave their residence between 11.00 pm and 5.00 am of the next day starting from 31 March, unless absolutely necessary or unless they are working during those hours.

As of 1 April, Thailand has a total of 1,771 COVID-19 cases, most of which are in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, and a death toll of 12.

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National Multimedia cuts pay, suspends benefits amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-04-02 13:36
Submitted on Thu, 2 Apr 2020 - 01:36 PMPrachatai

The National Multimedia Group announced yesterday (31 March) that it will be cutting the salaries of all its employees and suspending all employee benefits due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business.

The media conglomerate, which owns three newspapers, two online news agencies, a publishing house, a digital TV station, and the English-language The Nation online newspaper, announced that it will be cutting the salaries of all its employees, starting from today (1 April). It will also discontinue employee benefits not directly related to work or safety, and discontinue all compensation beyond salaries, such as travel expenses and phone bills.

The announcement said that no employee will be allowed to work overtime. The group will also allow department managers to put their staff on unpaid leave, and to lay off employees if absolutely necessary.

The announcement said that the COVID-19 pandemic, which affects every business sector in Thailand, is causing a severe and unavoidable impact on the company’s business activities, and that it needs to implement measures to keep itself afloat during the crisis. It also said that the company may consider lifting certain measures if the situation improves.

Also, its CEO, Chai Bunnag, will not be receiving a salary or compensation from the company during this time.

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States must respect and protect rights in combating misinformation online relating to COVID-19

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-01 13:39
Submitted on Wed, 1 Apr 2020 - 01:39 PMInternational Commission of Jurists

The ICJ today called on States in Southeast Asia to respect and protect human rights online and offline, in accordance with their obligations under international law, as they take steps to stop the spread of COVID-19. It urged States to ensure that avoiding adverse impacts on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, information and privacy are front and center when implementing measures to counter misinformation about the virus.

“This is a health emergency, unprecedented in modern times, that calls for urgent, targeted and effective responses by the State including measures to curtail false or misleading information about the spread of COVID-19,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“However, such measures must be implemented in accordance with rule of law principles, and their enforcement should protect the rights to health and life just as much as the rights to free expression, opinion, information and privacy.”

Governments in Southeast Asia have introduced and begun to enforce severe measures to control information online about the virus. This raises concerns about the potential for State over-reach in light of how Southeast Asian governments have historically enforced laws to curtail rights and censor content online in violation of international law. This trend was mapped out in its 2019 regional report.

The ICJ’s concerns has already been substantiated by recent actions taken by law enforcement authorities in some countries in the region. Arrests and detentions for online expression, in some cases without a warrant, have been reported in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Some of the laws in these countries which the ICJ had identified in its report as non-compliant with international human rights standards have been mis-used to arrest, detain and charge individuals accused of spreading false information online on the COVID-19 virus.

Legal provisions pursuant to which these arrests have been made carry significant criminal penalties including imprisonment terms and heavy fines – in some cases for merely expressing criticism of government measures on social media, such as complaints about inadequate screening measures or a lack of government preparedness.

“We urge governments not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The mere perception that the law is being used to suppress speech will only undermine the credibility of State institutions at a time when maintaining public trust is crucial,” said Rawski.

“Misinformation can be curtailed using less intrusive means than arrests, detentions and disproportionately onerous fines or imprisonment terms.”

Background

In its 2019 report, ‘Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression, Opinion and Information Online in Southeast Asia’, the ICJ mapped out a trend of how Southeast Asian governments have, for decades, crafted and enforced laws to curtail the rights to free expression, opinion and information both offline and online.

It criticized and called for the repeal or amendment of certain legal frameworks deemed non-human rights compliant for their vague, overbroad provisions, imposition of severe penalties and lack of adequate oversight mechanisms. These included, inter alia: laws brought into force to prevent the spread of false information online, including Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), Indonesia’s Law on Electronic Information and Transactions (UU ITE) and Thailand’s Computer-related Crimes Act (CCA), national security laws in Vietnam and Cambodia, and sedition laws in the Philippines.

In recent months, these same laws have reportedly been used to arrest, detain and charge individuals.

In the Philippines, a school teacher was arrested without warrant and faces charges with incitement to sedition under Philippines’ Revised Penal Code for a Facebook post criticizing the local government’s response to the outbreak and urging people to raid a local gym where food items were allegedly being stocked. While there appears to have been a legitimate and important concern requiring prevention of such a raid, the use of archaic and severe sedition provisions appears to have been unnecessary and other laws could have been invoked towards this end.

Similarly, in Vietnam, an individual faces a potentially prolonged imprisonment term and/or onerous fines under alleged “abuse of democratic freedoms” or “anti-State propaganda” for disseminating more than 200 articles on Facebook on the outbreak. Independent bloggers in Vietnam often attempt to share information on social media on matters not covered in State-controlled media. In this case, as in Philippines, despite a real need to control information online on the outbreak, harsh criminal penalties in the name of “national security” are likely disproportionate and not strictly necessary.

In Cambodia, as of 24 March, 17 individuals have been arrested for allegedly sharing false information online regarding the virus – including a 14-year-old girl who had shared on social media her concerns about COVID-19 cases in her school and province. Four persons who remain in detention, under national security-related charges including “incitement to commit a felony”, are members of the now-defunct main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). This raises significant concerns that the virus is being used as a pretext by the government to continue harassment and persecution of former CNRP members following the party’s dissolution in late 2017.

The use of non-human rights compliant laws to arrest and investigate individuals may not be in itself unlawful, if utilized in a strictly necessary and proportionate manner. The use of laws which are in themselves non-human rights compliant, however, deepens concerns of potential violations of the rights to liberty and security where individuals are deprived of their liberty in accordance with these laws.

Thus, in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, the CMA, the UU ITE and the CCA have respectively been used to arrest, detain, investigate and charge individuals for allegedly spreading misinformation online on the virus. These States must take clear, concerted efforts to ensure their arrests, detentions and investigations of accused persons are appropriate, just, and comply with due process of law.

In March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called upon States to put “human dignity and rights front and centre” in their measures to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, and ensure their implementation “in strict accordance with human rights standards, in a way that is necessary and proportionate to the evaluated risk ”. Soon after, 25 UN Experts cautioned against overreach and reasserted that restrictions imposed by States must be “proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory”, achieve legitimate public health aims, and “not function as a cover for repressive action” or “used simply to quash dissent.”

International law and standards

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the rights to free expression, opinion and information. Article 19(3) provides that these rights can be “subject to certain restrictions” but these restrictions must be provided by law and necessary for a legitimate purpose such as (i) ensuring respect of the rights or reputations of others, or (ii) protecting national security, public order or public health or morals.

In clarifying the scope of article 19 protections, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34, has clarified that the test of necessity entails that limitations on the rights should not be enforced where alternative measures can be undertaken that do not restrict fundamental freedoms, while the test of proportionality ensures that limitations should be proportionate to their specific function, not be overbroad and be the “least intrusive instrument amongst others to achieve their protective function”. Restrictions must “not put in jeopardy the right itself”.

In July 2018, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution affirming that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the UDHR and ICCPR.”

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and article 17 of the ICCPR protect the right of every individual against arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy. The UN Human Rights Committee has affirmed that the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality apply to the right to privacy in a manner similar to free expression and other fundamental freedoms.

The 1984 Siracusa Principles authoritatively provide guidance that, during a “public emergency which threatens the life of the nation”, State measures to limit or derogate from rights under the ICCPR must comply strictly with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. States of emergency must be limited in duration and limitations on rights should take into consideration disproportionate impacts on different populations.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has advised that measures to combat COVID-19 must have “specific focus and duration” and “match the needs of different phases of this crisis”. It has also provided guidance that surveillance or monitoring of individuals – including through online and digital technologies – must be strictly enforced for a legitimate public health aim and “limited in both duration and scope”.

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Emergency Decree is necessary but restricts freedom of expression, says TLHR

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-04-01 13:11
Submitted on Wed, 1 Apr 2020 - 01:11 PMPrachatai

In a statement released on Monday (30 March), Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) says that while they find that it is necessary for the state to “impose measures” to control the spread of COVID-19, it finds that the Emergency Decree, in effect from 26 March to 30 April, “contains provisions which significantly restrict people’s rights and freedom,” especially freedom of expression, press freedom, and freedom of movement, raising concerns about the necessity and proportionality of the measures issued under the decree.

TLHR says that they “acknowledge the enforcement of the Emergency Decree Serves a clear purpose to control and limit the local transmission of COVID-19.” However, they say that “the exercise of power during the state of emergency to protect public health should therefore remain provisional” and that the state of emergency “should solely serve no other purpose except of the pandemic control.”

The statement says that the imposition of a State of Emergency, with its human rights restrictions, must be time-bound and “strictly imposed when necessary and in a proportionate manner” in order to control the COVID-19 pandemic. THLR also states that the measures imposed under the Emergency Decree “should be subjected to regular review to ensure their necessity and guarantee they are provisionally enforced,” and should not violate any of the human rights specified in Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996.

TLHR also calls for amendments to the Emergency Decree, to enable the House of Representatives to review its measures and any renewal of the State of Emergency.

The statement notes that some of the measures issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree are “vaguely worded, unclear, and ambiguous.” It notes that codifying all measures in one piece of legislation, while convenient, “may cause confusion in regard to their source of power and enforcement,” and also that some measures “can be enforced through other existing laws” without the need to be included in an Emergency Decree.

The statement raises concerns about overlapping definitions and penalties, as violations of the provisions under the Decree are punishable under the Decree itself and also other existing legislation. It also raises concerns about the liability of state officials under the Emergency Decree, as Section 17 of the Decree protects officials acting under the Decree from any legal action that may be taken against them.

“In order to safeguard the rights to health as well as the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, the imposed measures which limit the rights of the people should not be used in an arbitrary manner, which may exacerbate the ongoing situation or delay the pandemic control,” says TLHR.

Other organizations have also raised concerns about the possible threats to human rights during the State of Emergency, including Protection International, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also issued a statement on 23 March calling for ASEAN authorities to ensure that human rights are at the centre of their COVID-19 responses, that every community is protected, and not to use emergency responses as a tool to silent dissenting voices or excessively restrict freedom of expression.

As of 31 March, Thailand has a total of 1,651 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 23 of these cases are in critical condition, while 324 have been discharged from hospital. So far, 10 people have died.

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Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources raises concerns over freedom restriction under the Emergency Decree

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-03-31 17:22
Submitted on Tue, 31 Mar 2020 - 05:22 PMProtection International

The Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources issued a statement on Monday (30 March), raising concerns about the restriction to people's rights and freedom under the Emergency Decree, which limits freedom of assembly, reduce the people's participation, and close off complaint mechanism, resulting in the inability to exercise their rights according to the constitution and related bills to oppose the mineral projects.

A Covid-19 checkpoint on Mittraphap road in Nong Khai province on 27 March 2020. (Source: National News Bureau of Thailand

Since the pandemic of COVID19 are spreading out in Thailand in the recent months, Thai people have been on high alert while the number of those infected continues to increase, as well as the death toll and people under monitoring. The consequence of this is the loss of job, loss of income, shortage of medical equipment. Household items become more expensive and increasingly scarce to buy. Such situation has created disruptions in economic system, society, health care and the environment, leading to lack of balance and adequacy to live normal lives.

Even though the COVID19 pandemic does not seem as grave as war or terrorism, but it has shown that this government lacks of capacity to solve the issues. Current measures in solving the problems are diminishing human dignity, restricting freedom of expression in public media channels, lack of health care and essential infrastructure, all deriving from mismanagement, and lack of early preventive measures, resulting in the spread of this pandemic in every direction.

 On 25 March 2020, the government the declared Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) from 26 March 2020-30 April 2020 aimed to halt the spread of COVID19 with following details:

  1. Prohibiting anyone to leave their residence in specific time;
  2. Prohibiting public gathering and social gathering;
  3. Prohibiting presenting news or publishing information that are inaccurate;
  4. Prohibiting the use of public routes, vehicles, or specify conditions for the use of routes;
  5. Prohibiting the use of buildings or venues;
  6. Allowing the evacuation of people from the specific area for safety;

The Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources, who has been monitoring development projects relating to mineral resources by the state and business sector would like to note the criticism regarding the Emergency Decree. It limits the rights and freedom of assembly, reduce the people’s participation, close off complaints mechanism, resulting in the inability to exercise their rights according to the constitution and related bills to oppose the mineral projects.

Currently, the approval and permission process for many of the mineral projects are still going ahead with the strong support from the state and private sectors. At the same time, the people and communities who have stakes according to the Mineral Act B.E. 2560 were frozen by the Emergency Decree, resulting in deprivation of the voices, rights and freedom of the people who own the mineral resources, while the processes by the private sectors are not restricted. Therefore, the Network of the People Who Own Mineral Resources has demands as follows:

1. To equally and fairly enforce the Emergency Decree, the authorities must halt any approval processes that would lead to granting permission to all development projects relating to mineral resources, until the people are free to exercise their rights and freedom.

2. In the case of the area where there have been complaints regarding the impacts of the projects relating to mineral resources, there must be orders to halt any procedures to not t rubbed salt into the wound of the people who have to battle with Covid-19  which has worsened the situation impacted by the mining projects.

From the above demands, the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources would like to request that the relevant authorities to enforce the Emergency Decree only where necessary. If the development projects are allowed to proceed at the time where people do not have rights and freedom nor participation, it would result in damaging health and environmental impacts to the communities.

This contradicts the intention of the Mineral Bill B.E. 2560 and the Constitution.

We would like to request all the agencies to halt any processes relating to mineral resources projects in all parts of Thailand.

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Cartoon by Stephff: Threat to freedom of expression

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-30 16:47
Submitted on Mon, 30 Mar 2020 - 04:47 PMStephffCartoon by Stephff: Threat to freedom of expression MultimediaStephffCOVID-19coronavirusfreedom of expressionState of emergencyEmergency Decree
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In full solidarity with defenders: Protection International’s recommendations for Governments in addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-30 16:39
Submitted on Mon, 30 Mar 2020 - 04:39 PMProtection International

COVID-19 is presenting humanity with one of its biggest challenges in living memory, but under this pandemic the threat to human rights, defenders and our right to defend human rights is one that we call attention to.

(Source: www.pixabay.com)

The impact of the COVID-19 virus has reached the four corners of the globe and has affected all parts of society. But some parts have been more affected than others, especially in settings where the right to defend human rights and defenders are most at risk. In such complex times, the role of civil society and human rights defenders remains essential and must be reinforced and protected.

Under such extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary measures must be taken. However, these measures must not be exploited to weaken nor affect the work and life of defenders and their communities. Governments’ responses to the crisis cannot be used as an excuse to crack down on human rights defenders. Governments must ensure the implementation of additional measures in strict accordance with human rights standards, as stressed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and, now more than ever, they must protect all those who are committed to the right to defend human rights.

Declaring a state of emergency should not translate to increased surveillance, intimidation, aggression or repression over civil society, communities and individuals who exercise their right to defend human rights.

Calls to release human rights defenders in detention, many of whom are held in alarming conditions unfit to face a health pandemic of this magnitude, need to be heard and acted upon. As stressed yesterday by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, “governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners”. Our colleague, Burundian human rights defender Germain Rukuki, unlawfully sentenced to 32 years in prison and currently detained in Burundi, must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Governments must ensure the right to health for all and also take into consideration the accessibility to health services for rural and indigenous communities, particularly in countries where such groups already suffer from a lack of access to basic services.

From Protection International’s offices across the globe, we are monitoring closely the evolution of the situation and are making the necessary shifts in strategy, reprioritisation, and adjustments in programming and outreach, which are needed to safeguard the health and safety of our partner communities and staff.

As always, Protection International stands in full solidarity with defenders across the globe facing increased risks and threats. Now more than ever, we will continue to advocate for the right to defend human rights alongside communities of defenders across Latin America, Africa, South East Asia and Europe.

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UN expresses concern about judicial proceedings against FFP

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-30 15:06
Submitted on Mon, 30 Mar 2020 - 03:06 PM

Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 34/18 and 41/12.

In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning judicial proceedings against the Future Forward Party, which may lead to its dissolution and the criminalisation of its members. 

According to the information received:

In early March 2018, the Future Forward Party (FFP) was formed by Mr. Thanathorn Juangroongruangki and other individuals, including academics, social and political activists, and entrepreneurs. It was officially recognised as a political party in September 2018. During its operation, the FFP has campaigned for the amendment of the 2017 military-drafted Constitution and for military reforms, including reducing the military budget, removing the military’s interference in domestic politics, reducing the number of generals in the army, and ending conscription. In the general election of 24 March 2019, the FFP received around six million votes and obtained the third highest number of seats (80) in the lower house of Parliament.

Following the election, the Constitutional Court suspended the founder of the FFP as a Member of Parliament after he had been accused of registering for candidacy in the general election while still holding shares in a media company. He was disqualified as a Member of Parliament in November 2019. It is reported that several other key members of FFP are currently being either investigated or prosecuted in at least 30 cases under different laws including the Computer Crime Act; Organic Political Party Act, the Organic Law on the Election of the Members of Parliament, Public Assembly Act, and different charges under the Criminal Code.

Among these various cases, one lodged with the Constitutional Court petitions for the dissolution of the FFP for allegedly having ideology and willingness to overthrow the Constitutional Monarchy. The allegation appears to be based on statements by members of the FFP that were critical of the current government. PALAIS DES NATIONS • 1211 GENEVA 10, SWITZERLAND 2 On 19 July 2019, the Constitutional Court with a majority decision (5 out of 9 judges) accepted the case for its consideration under Article 49 of the 2017 Constitution. Article 49 stipulates that no person shall exercise his rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime with the Monarch as the Head of State. Any person who has knowledge of such an act shall have the right to petition to the Attorney-General to request the Constitutional Court for ordering the cessation of such act. If the Attorney-General refuses to proceed as petitioned or fails to proceed within fifteen days from the date of receiving the petition, the petitioner may submit it directly to the Constitutional Court.

It is reported that a decision on this case will be taken by the Constitutional Court on 21 January 2020. It is reported that if the party is dissolved, FPP’s Executive Committee members may be banned from forming a political party and from being Executive Committee members of any party for up to 10 years. Executive Committee members who are currently sitting in Parliament may also be stripped of their MP status and may be banned from running in elections for 10 years. Other FFP members of Parliament may have to join another political party within 60 days or would otherwise lose their status as Member of Parliament.

Furthermore, it is reported that on 14 December 2019, the FFP organised a peaceful gathering at the National Stadium Skywalk of the Bangkok Mass Transit System. Following this event, some party members were charged with alleged involvement in organising a flash mob without notification, interrupting the public access to the train station, interrupting the public access to public space, and advertising through a sound amplifier without permission from the authority. 

We express serious concern about the judicial proceedings against the Future Forward Party, which could result in the dissolution of the party and the criminalisation of its members. These measures may prevent party members from exercising their right to freedom of association and freedom of expression and may intimidate and deter other individuals, including members of other political parties, civil society and human rights defenders, and others, from speaking on the role of the military and the monarchy in Thai politics and other issues of public interest. In this context, we also express serious concern that the various judicial cases, including those related to the holding of a gathering without notification, brought against members of the Future Forward Party, may appear to be related to their views on the influence of the military in domestic politics. Furthermore, we are concerned that the current proceedings are being used to penalise the FFP for its criticism of the ruling government. In particular, members of the FFP may face criminal prosecution for statements critical of the Government under existing sedition and lèse-majesté laws, which the Special Rapporteurs have raised concerns about in the past (e.g. UA THA 1/2017 and UA THA 7/2017).

In connection with the above alleged facts and concerns, please refer to the Annex on Reference to international human rights law attached to this letter which cites international human rights instruments and standards relevant to these allegations.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful for your observations on the following matters:

1. Please provide any additional information and any comment you may have on the above-mentioned allegations.

2. Please provide the full details of the factual and legal basis for the legal proceedings that could lead to the closure of the Future Forward Party and explain how it complies with international human rights law and standards.

3. Please explain whether and under what conditions the FFP will have recourse to a legal review of this decision.

4. Please provide information you may have regarding guidelines or interpretations of Article 49 of the Constitution which may ensure it does not adversely affect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in accordance with General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee.

5. Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure individuals can exercise their right to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression free from intimidation or persecution.

We would appreciate receiving a response within 60 days. Passed this delay, this communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be made public via the communications reporting website. They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.

While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.

David Kaye Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Clement Nyaletsossi Voule Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Annex Reference to international human rights law

In connection with above, we would like to refer to the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression as set forth in articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) acceded by Thailand on 29 October 1996.

We would also like to appeal to your Excellency’s Government to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the ICCPR, which provides that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Any restriction on such rights must meet the conditions of legality, necessity and proportionality, and legitimacy of objective (See generally Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34, paras. 21 – 36). In its General Comment 34, paragraph 28, the United Nations Human Rights Committee underscored that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression under paragraph 3 of Article 19 must not impede political debate. Furthermore, paragraph 38 highlights the particularly high value placed upon uninhibited expression in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions.

We would further like to appeal to your Excellency's Government to take all necessary steps to ensure the right to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly, as recognised in articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR. Article 21 of the ICCPR provides that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Article 22 of the ICCPR recognizes that: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests”.

In this context, we would like to refer to the best practices related to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly identified in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (See in particular, paragraph 75 on the procedure related to the suspension or the dissolution of associations; A/HRC/20/27). In this report, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that “[t]he suspension and the involuntarily dissolution of an association are the severest types of restrictions on freedom of association. As a result, it should only be possible when there is a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of national law, in compliance with international human rights law.”

In his report A/68/299, the Special Rapporteur further emphasised that “only when a political party or any of its candidates uses violence or advocates for violence or national, racial or religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or 5 violence (art. 20, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also reflected in art. 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), or when it carries out activities or acts aimed at the destruction of the rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights law (art. 5, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), can it be lawfully prohibited”.

In his report A/HRC/20/27, the Special Rapporteur also clarified that “Should the organizers [of a gathering] fail to notify the authorities, the assembly should not be dissolved automatically and the organizers should not be subject to criminal sanctions, or administrative sanctions resulting in fines or imprisonment.”

Furthermore, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s Government the provision of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms made under article 12 paras 2 and 3 which provide that the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration. In this connection, everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be protected effectively under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States that result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Pick to PostUnited NationsSource: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25037&fbclid=IwAR2wq0ff6r_uEde6melNvotz2mHMrEBcCoxuiaAsuIeic2FZs-ksw6WDwA4
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai Authorities’ Covid-19 Response Must Not Lead to Unwarranted Restrictions On Human Rights and Freedom Of Expression

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-03-30 12:38
Submitted on Mon, 30 Mar 2020 - 12:38 PMAmnesty International

The Thai government should ensure that the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation (2005) to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic does not impose unwarranted restrictions on human rights, Amnesty International said today. International standards require the Thai, authorities should review their use of emergency powers to address COVID-19 to ensure they are temporary, exceptional, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory and are not used to arbitrarily restrict rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of information.

On 24 March, the Royal Thai Government announced that it would declare a State of Emergency to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On 25 March, it articulated a series of restrictions on movement, assembly, privacy, and freedom of expression, with penalties of imprisonment and/or fine, to come into effect on 26 March 2020. Authorities granted officials powers under Article 9 of the 2005 Emergency Decree to censor or edit information they deem to be false or distorted with the potential to create public fear or misunderstanding. The announcement mandates officials to charge individuals under the Computer Crimes Act, or under the Emergency Decree, which allows for up to two years’ imprisonment and/or up to 40,000 Thai Baht (US $ 1,224 equivalent) fine.

Censorship

Government statements at a press conference on 25 March that they would restrict the media to only reporting official information on COVID-19, and prosecute individuals whose statements are deemed critical of authorities’ COVID-19 response are of particular concern. At the press conference Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam stated that journalists would be prevented from interviewing officials and medical personnel and restricted to only covering information disseminated at official press conferences. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s warning to “be careful about what they post on social media”, and threats of prosecutions for “abuse of social media” at a separate press conference on 24 March 2020 also fuel fears that authorities plan to disproportionately restrict online expression about COVID-19.

Curbs on Freedom of Expression

Amnesty International is concerned that authorities have invoked emergency powers placing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, allowing for censorship and prosecution of individuals who disseminate news that authorities deem “false or might instigate fear amongst the public or that is intentionally distorted”.

The organization calls on authorities to amend this prohibition and ensure that enforcement of the Emergency Decree does not arbitrarily restrict people from speaking about or reporting on matters that affect them, including online, in violation of their rights to freedom of expression. This includes criticising official policies and how authorities enforce the, nor expressing differing views.

Overbroad legislation

Amnesty International is further concerned that authorities have been imposing excessive checks on freedom of expression online. Officials are already using the Computer Crimes Act and other legislation to harass individuals. Their vaguely worded provisions give excessive scope for prosecutions that violate Thailand’s obligations to uphold freedom of expression.

On 24 March authorities charged Danai, an artist based in Thailand’s southern province Phuket, for commenting on the apparent absence of health checks in place on arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport. After posting on his Facebook account “Zen Wide,” the artist was charged with “importing false information deemed likely to cause public disorder on the Internet” under Section 14(2) of the Act.

Authorities should ensure that the powers they have announced to track and surveil mobile phone activity conform with human rights principles. While governments can implement measures to gather epidemiological information, states must protect the personal information of patients and their dignity and any surveillance or tracking measures must meet the test of being legitimate, necessary and proportionate, and non-discriminatory. Authorities must ensure that any powers that they introduce for the tracking of mobile phones are in conformity with these principles. The COVID19 pandemic cannot serve as an excuse for indiscriminate mass surveillance of any kind, any surveillance measures brought in must be time-bound, and only continue for as long as necessary to address the current pandemic.

Refugees and Asylum-seekers

Amnesty International also calls on the government to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers are protected from being returned to places where they would be at risk of persecution.

International Legal Standards

The Thai government, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is obliged to ensure that only measures derogating from the Covenant’s provisions that are “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation” are allowed. During previous periods of emergency, authorities have imposed arbitrary and sweeping measures that have allowed for restrictions that go beyond what may be permissible under international human rights law, which have been in place for excessively lengthy periods. UN human rights bodies have repeatedly advised Thai authorities of the need to amend emergency laws, including the Emergency Decree, which has been used to censor and undermine freedom of expression and the media in the country.

Background

Section 9(3) of Thailand’s Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation (2005) grants powers to “prohibit the press release, distribution or dissemination of letters, publications or any means of communication containing texts which may instigate fear amongst the people or is intended to distort information which misleads understanding of the emergency situation to the extent of affecting the security of state or public order or good moral of the people both in the area or locality where an emergency situation has been declared or the entire Kingdom”. Section 14(2) of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding 100,000 Thai Baht (approx. USD 3,060).

Pick to PostCOVID-19coronavirusAmnesty InternationalFreedom of informationfreedom of expressionfreedom of speechEmergency DecreeState of emergency
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai student files complaint with administrative court over new CAAT travel requirements

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-03-27 17:13
Submitted on Fri, 27 Mar 2020 - 05:13 PMPrachatai

Arthit Suriyawongkul, a Thai PhD student at Trinity College Dublin, has filed a complaint with the Thai Administrative Court on Wednesday (25 March) calling for the repeal of the new travel restrictions announced by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), which require Thai nationals returning from overseas to present a fit to fly certificate and a certifying letter from their local Thai Embassy before being allowed to board a flight home.

People waiting in front of the Thai Embassy in London to get their required documents (Photo from Mookdapa)

Arthit’s complaint states that the requirements infringe upon the rights and liberties as enshrined in the Constitution, cause a burden in terms of finance and time, lead to additional health risk, and do not benefit the public. The complaint also states that the requirements are unlawful as the CAAT has no legal authority to issue them, and that they violate Sections 25, 38, and 39 of the Constitution.

Section 25 concerns the protection of the rights and liberties of Thai citizens. Section 38 states that “a person shall enjoy the liberty of travelling and the liberty of making the choice of his or her residence,” while Section 39 states that “no person of Thai nationality shall be deported or prohibited from entering the Kingdom.”

The complaint requests the Administrative Court to rule on repealing the CAAT requirements and for the repeal to be effective from 22 March onwards. Arthit also says that, since it is possible for government agencies to find other ways of screening incoming passengers for COVID-19 risk, suspending the requirements will not affect the government or other public services.

Arthit also started the campaign “Bring Thai Home” on Change.org, which now has 561 signatures toward a 1000 signature goal. The campaign states that, while the importance of screening travellers is recognized, there should be other ways that do not prevent overseas Thai nationals from returning home.

The CAAT announcement was released last Thursday (19 March) and came into effect from Sunday (22 March) onwards. It states that before being allowed to board their flight, Thai nationals returning to Thailand are required to present a fit to fly health certificate, which is merely a general health check to certify that the person is healthy enough to travel by plane, and a letter from their local Thai Embassy, Consulate, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs certifying that they are a Thai national returning to Thailand.

The new requirements have caused a lot of issues for overseas Thai communities living in countries where it is difficult to obtain a medical certificate, and embassies have had to scramble to facilitate the issuing of documents. Many questioned why the government had allowed the CAAT to issue new requirements that are little short of barring Thai nationals from returning home and that are a possible violation of the Constitution, which prohibits preventing Thai nationals from entering the country.

Chula Sukmanop, Director General of the CAAT, insisted in a BBC Thai article that the announcement is not to prohibit Thai nationals from returning home but is a measure to ensure that other passengers will not be affected. He also alleged that requiring the fit to fly certificate is the lightest measure possible to confirm that travellers are healthy.

NewsCOVID-19coronavirusAdministrative CourtArthit SuriyawongkulOverseas ThaiFreedom of movementCivil Aviation Authorities of Thailand (CAAT)
Categories: Prachatai English

Artist arrested for posting “Suvarnabhumi Airport has no screening for Covid-19” while in 14-day self-quarantine after his return from Spain

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-03-27 15:12
Submitted on Fri, 27 Mar 2020 - 03:12 PMThai Lawyers for Human Rights

A 42-year-old artist was arrested at his art gallery in Phuket while in self-quarantine for the eighth day after his return from Spain. A charge was filed by the Airports of Thailand PCL against him for putting into a computer system false computer data after he had posted alleging that he encountered no Covid-19 screening at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. The police will apply for his remand in custody today.

23 March 2020 at 16.00, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) had been informed by Danai Ussama, 42, an artist that he was arrested by the police at an gallery in Phuketpursuant to the criminal arrest warrant no. 400/2563 dated 23 March 2020 on charge concerning “putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public”. After the arrest he was taken to the Phuket Provincial Police Office to process the arrest memo. He was then taken on board a plane from Phuket around 17.00 bound for the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) in Bangkok.

Danai under his Facebook alias “Zen Wide” posted a message on 16 March 2020 that upon his return from Spain’s Barcelona, he encountered no Covid-19 screening at the Immigration checkpoint of the Suvarnabhumi Airport, similar to 500-600 other passengers from the same flight and a couple other flights.

Later Kittipong Kittikachorn, Airport Deputy General Manager, in a press conference rebuked the claim saying all passengers had passed through checkpoints or screening points with thermo-scanners and officers pursuance to the Covid-19 outbreak prevention measure. According to him, Danai had passed through such screening uninterrupted since he had no fever and the country from which he travelled, Spain, was not included in the 4 + 2 dangerous communicable disease areas as indicated in the Notification. Therefore, he was not stopped for questioning or additional inspection. The Deputy Manager further said that the post has caused damage to the reputation of various public authorities and he would consider launching a legal action for the injury caused as a result of the posting of false information into the computer system and for spreading fake news to cause panic in the public.

Upon his arrival in Bangkok around 18.30, Danai was taken to the Crime Suppression Division. His phone was seized by the authority as it was considered a device used for committing the offence. He was then taken to the TCSD where he was pressed with the charge concerning “putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public” pursuant to Section 14(2) of the Computer Crimes Act 2017.

The Airports of Thailand PCL has authorized a lawyer to report the case against Danai alleging that what he posted constitutes no facts and has caused panic in the public and undermined public confidence in the Suvarnabhumi Airport since it may have misled the people into thinking that the Airport has been negligent and employed no Covid-19  screening measures for inbound passengers on par with international standard. And it has, as a result, damaged the reputation of Airports of Thailand PCL.

During the police interview with the presence of lawyers and relatives, Danai denied all the charges. He insisted that what he posted was entirely truthful. The picture of the airport he posted along with the message had been retrieved from the internet to accompany his account about the Suvannaphum Airport. The picture was not posted purportedly to refer to the Suvannaphum Airport or the lack of screening points since it was a picture of the exterior of the inbound terminal and had nothing to do with the area of the airport referred to in his post.

Danai further said that the reason he posted the message had stemmed from his concern for his Facebook friends since it was not just him who had returned, but there were several other passengers in the flight who had travelled from a risk country. He simply wanted Thailand to make the disease screening even more stringent to prevent further outbreak.

Danai also asked the inquiry officers to retrieve footage of all security cameras at the Suvarnabhumi Airport that covers the time he refers to in his post to be used as his evidence during the investigation.

The pressing of the charge and the interview was completed around 00.30 of 24 March 2020 after which he was remanded in custody at the Thung Song Hong Police Station, together with other five suspects from other cases. The TCSD inquiry officers will bring him to the Bangkok Criminal Court for arraignment and to apply for his remand in custody at 11.00.

A freelance artist, Danai produces contemporary arts including painting and installation and has often displayed his works in various museums and galleries.  His works are also sold in art studios in various countries. According to him, upon his arrival to Thailand on 16 March 2020, he could simply walk through the Immigration at the Suvarnabhumi Airport without being stopped for screening and without seeing any officials. Prior to his departure for Thailand, he had read from the website of the Thai Embassy in Madrid about the measures to contain Covid-19 and information for travelers from Spain to Thailand. It was indicated in the website that the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Disease Control had designated Spain as one of the six dangerous communicable disease areas for the novel Coronavirus outbreak and people are advised to avoid travelling there.  Travelers (Thai and foreign nationals) from Spain to Thailand would have anticipated disease screening measures at the Bangkok Airport. In addition, during his departure and layoff at the Barcelona and Abu Dhabi International Airports, he was subjected to quite stringent screening and he thought it would be the same at the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Danai further revealed that when the police came to arrest him, he was self-quarantining on the 3rd floor of the gallery. His wife was coming down to open the gallery nearly noon time before she encountered the police. Since self-quarantine is being encouraged by theDepartment of Disease Control and Spain is one among the risk countries, and he was placing himself under the 14-day-quarantine in his own house for 14 days, (from 16-29 March 2020), but the police decided to apply for an arrest warrant to hold him in custody immediately. In this case, the police could have summoned him to ask him to answer to the charges after the quarantine period is over (as in other cases for example suspects being summoned to answer to the charges).

In addition, the police insisted on having him remanded in custody regardless if he would be granted bail or not. By placing him in the midst of other suspects at the Thung Song Hong Police Station and at the holding cell under the Criminal Court, it could make it possible for Danai to spread his Covid-19 from Spain to other suspects and could have led to widespread outbreak in the penitentiary system.

*Update:

As of 24 March, Danai has been granted bail after he was held for 14 hours. 

Pick to PostThai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)freedom of expressionfreedom of speechCOVID-19coronavirus
Categories: Prachatai English

Government to spend 29 billion baht on monarchy

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-26 18:31
Submitted on Thu, 26 Mar 2020 - 06:31 PMPrachatai

Caption: Thai cabinet in front of Government House, July 2019

The national budget bill for 2020 shows that government will spend 29.728 billion baht on monarchy, amounting to 0.93% of the total budget

In his speech to parliament, however, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said that government would spend 5.351 billion baht on the national institution as a part of 4,281 billion baht security budget. 

The 29.728 billion baht budget for the monarchy is separated into direct and indirect budget. A budget of 19.685 billion baht is spent on activities directly related to the monarchy such as royal activities, security, and travel. Most of the budget is allocated to Royal Agencies (7.685 billion), the Ministry of Interior (2.378 billion), and the Ministry of Defence (1.713 billion). The rest goes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (15 million), the Ministry of Commerce (13 million), the Office of the Prime Minister (506 million), and non-ministerial departments (847 million). 

Direct Budget for the Monarchy: 19.685 billion baht 

Department Budget (million baht) 1. Royal Agencies (Office of the Privy Council; Bureau of the Royal Household; Royal Security Command) 7,685 2. Central Budget 6,528

2.1 Royal travel and reception of of foreign heads of state

1,000

2.2 (Office of the Prime Minister) Maximum convenience and safety for flights of the Royal Family upon request. 

5,528

3. Ministry of Interior

2,378

3.1 (Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning) Survey, design, construction and maintenance of special activities inside royal areas to be durable, of the highest standard, and beautiful as befits royalty.

2,378

4. Ministry of Defence 1,713

4.1 (Office of the Permanent Secretary) Support for guarding, honouring, and acting in line with the wishes of the King. 

1,201

4.2 (Army) Projects protecting, honouring and acting in line with the wishes of the King and upholding the monarchy.

336

4.3 (Supreme Command Headquarters) Projects protecting, honouring and acting in line with the wishes of the King and upholding the monarchy.

62

4.4 (Navy) Projects protecting, honouring and acting in line with the wishes of the King and upholding the monarchy.

51

4.5 (Air Force) Projects protecting, honouring and acting in line with the wishes of the King and upholding the monarchy.

41

4.6 (Office of the Permanent Secretary) Projects protecting, honouring and acting in line with the wishes of the King and upholding the monarchy.

22

5. Non-ministerial departments 847

5.1 Special committee for coordination of royal projects

847

6. Office of the Prime Minister 506

6.1 Coordination with Royal Agencies and requests royal decorations

505.5

6.2 Project for meetings to consider requests for royal decorations

0.5

7. Ministry of Commerce 13

7.1 (Department of International Trade Promotion) Project to exhibit new Sirivannavari Brand products in foreign countries.

13

8. Ministry of Foreign Affairs 15

8.1 (Office of the Permanent Secretary) Expenditure on protecting and upholding the monarchy

15

Meanwhile, the 10.043 billion baht indirect budget is spent on royal projects, projects to honour the King and public relations. It is allocated to the central budget (2.790 billion baht), non-ministerial departments (2.051 billion baht), the Ministry of Interior (1.518 billion baht), the Ministry of Culture (1.378 billion baht), the Ministry of Health (902 million baht), the Office of the Prime Minister (391 million baht), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (374 million baht), and other ministries (426 million baht). 

The total amount spent on the monarchy is far higher than the budget spent on justice (26 billion), judicial bodies (20 billion), foreign affairs (9 billion), parliamentary bodies (8.7 billion), culture (8.5 billion), commerce (7.5 billion), and energy (2.2 billion). 

Another 1.262 billion baht is allocated to projects whose names are associated with royal theories and projects. For example, the Department of Fisheries is to spend 50 million baht on a training programme for 70,000 farmers participating in New Theory of Agriculture projects. The Ministry of Human Security and Social Development also is allocated 122 million baht on projects to promote and develop target group capacity in accordance to royal wishes, royal thoughts, and royal projects. If these budget allocations are included, the cumulative figure will reach 30 billion baht.

Another 399 million baht in the budgets of provincial administrations indirectly involves the monarchy. For example, Nakhon Pathom has allocated 3.5 million baht to the To Be Number One project initiated by Princess Ubolratana to combat drug problems in schools. Rayong has allocated 9.4 million baht to the same project. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya has allocated 9.2 million baht on agricultural management using the sufficiency economy philosophy and extension of projects based on royal thoughts.  

The 2020 national budget bill which contains these allocations was passed in the midst of a scandal. In the vote to pass the 3.2 trillion baht budget bill in January, many government MPs were shown to have cast their votes despite being absent from the chamber. It was later revealed that other MPs used their voting cards to vote on their behalf, an act which is illegal and unconstitutional. Chuan Leekpai filed a case with the Constitutional Court asking it to rule if the bill is valid.

This delayed government disbursement of the budget, triggering concern that the economy may suffer, as the budget year officially began last October. The Constitutional Court ruled that the bill was still valid and allowed a re-vote despite ruling differently on similar cases in the past. The bill was passed at the end of February with retroactive effect and 7 months left in the financial year.

NewsmonarchyGen Prayut Chan-o-cha
Categories: Prachatai English

ARTICLE 19, HRW raise concern over threat to freedom of expression during state of emergency

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-03-26 17:34
Submitted on Thu, 26 Mar 2020 - 05:34 PMPrachatai

ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have issued statements following the announcement of emergency measures by the Thai government yesterday (26 March), raising concern over how these measures may threaten freedom of expression and access to information.

The current statistics of COVID-19 cases in Thailand, as of 25 March. 

The measures include a ban on news coverage or sharing information about COVID-19 that may be false, may cause panic, or information that is “intentionally distorted to mislead the public.” Public officials may censor such information, and sharing it may be punished under the Emergency Decree or the Computer Crimes Act, which is “a repressive law in its own right,” said ARTICLE 19. The measures also ban public gatherings “or any kind of seditious act.”

“The virus’ spread in Thailand demands a forceful response, but there is no reasonable justification for the type of restrictions on speech imposed by the government today,” said Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19. “Emergency powers should be limited to those strictly necessary to ensure an effective public health response. Broad restrictions on speech are counterproductive in these circumstances. They inhibit, rather than help, efforts to stop the spread of the virus.”

ARTICLE 19 said that “protecting public health is a legitimate state interest that may justify limits on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. However, such restrictions must meet the standards of legality, necessity and proportionality, as established by Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” which Thailand ratified in 1996.

Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” Paragraph 3 of the Article states that the exercise of these rights “may […] be subjected to certain restrictions” but only those that are provided by law and are necessary, such as “respect of the rights or reputations of others” or “for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

“Thailand’s use of emergency powers to impose broad restrictions on speech is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. The government has provided no justification indicating that these measures are necessary or proportional to the purported aim of helping to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Thailand. To the contrary, the free flow of information is essential in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the severe criminal penalties imposed by the Emergency Decree and Computer Crime Act are not justified by the circumstances,” said ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 calls for the Thai government to “immediately repeal” the emergency measures which restrict free speech, and to ensure that any new measures comply with international human rights standards. They also call for the government to be “fully transparent and accountable,” to make information about the emergency measures clear and accessible, and to “[commit] to upholding human rights in all actions and policies.”

HRW also issued a statement yesterday (25 March) calling for the Thai government to “immediately stop using ‘anti-fake news’ laws to prosecute people critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

“Thai authorities seem intent on shutting down critical opinions from the media and general public about their response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Emergency Decree provides the government a free hand to censor free speech.”

HRW previously expressed concerns about the threats to free speech during the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand in the report “Human Rights Dimensions of the COVID-19 Response,” as whistleblowers in the public health sector and online journalists face “retaliatory lawsuits” and intimidation from the authorities for criticising the government’s response to the outbreak and reporting alleged corruption relating to hoarding of surgical masks and medical supplies. Medical staff were also threatened with termination of employment contracts and revocation of license for speaking out about shortage of hospital supplies.  

 

On 23 March, the police also arrested Danai Usama, a 42-year-old Phuket-based artist, after he posted a message on his Facebook page that, upon his return from Barcelona, Spain, he found that there was no COVID-19 screening at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Danai was charged with violating the Computer Crimes Act for “putting into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to cause panic in the public,” based on a complaint made against him by Airports of Thailand PCL.  

“While the Thai government has a responsibility to adopt measures that would protect the Thai people from the outbreak, the Emergency Decree announced is a dangerous warning to the press and social media users to self-censor criticism or face prosecution,” Adams said. “Prime Minister Prayut’s military and civilian governments have long records of repressing contrary views, arresting critics, and persecuting whistleblowers. The government has granted itself virtually unlimited powers under the guise of the COVID-19 crisis that should be immediately repealed.”

As of 25 March, Thailand has 1,045 confirmed cases of COVID-19, included 9 medical staff. 4 patients are reported to be in critical condition, while 88 have been discharged from hospital.

NewsCOVID-19coronavirusArticle 19Human Rights Watchfreedom of speechfreedom of expressionFreedom of informationInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)human rights violationState of emergencyEmergency DecreeComputer Crimes Act
Categories: Prachatai English

Thailand declares a State of Emergency, closes borders, tells senior citizens to stay home

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 18:48
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 06:48 PMPrachatai

The Thai government today declared a State of Emergency and enacted the 2005 Emergency Decree in an effort to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand, closing the national borders and ordering high risk venues to remain closed. Meanwhile, senior citizens, children, and those with preexisting health conditions are told to stay home. 

The Emergency Decree will be in place from tomorrow (26 March) to 30 April. The first set of measures issued under the Decree instructed senior citizens aged over 70 and children under the age of 5 to stay home unless absolutely necessary, such as traveling to medical appointments, to buy food, travelling for banking activities or carrying out law enforcement orders. Those with pre-existing health conditions are also asked to stay indoors. 

The same set of measures, effective after midnight, also close Thai national borders and prohibit travel into the country through its land, sea, or air border checkpoints, with the exception of goods, transportation crews, members of diplomatic missions or other international organizations exempted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foreigners with work permits, Thai nationals with medical certificates and embassy certificates, and any other person exempted by the Prime Minister.

Venues with high risks of infection in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, including sport stadiums, gyms, and places of entertainment such as bars, nightclubs, theatres, spas, and massage parlours, which have been ordered closed by provincial governors last week, are to remain closed until further notice, while museums, public libraries, national parks, places of worship, markets, and supermarkets should consider partial closure or other measures to minimize transmission risk.

Shops providing essential goods and services, including banks, markets, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, online deliveries, and takeaway restaurants, along with hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies may remain open.

The order also bans large gatherings and hoarding food, drinking water, and medical supplies, while commuting between provinces is not prohibited but discouraged. No curfews have been announced.

Violation of these measures may be punished by up to two months in prison under the 2005 Emergency Decree. Other offenses not already mentioned may also be punishable under other public health and safety laws.  

The statement also stated that news coverage that contains false information, information that may cause panic, or content that may affect national security may be censored or punished under the Emergency Decree or the Computer Crimes Act.

Measures under the Emergency Decree to address the COVID-19 outbreak must conform to international law, says ICJ

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement yesterday (24 March), calling for the Thai government to exercise its power under the Emergency Decree in a “lawful and proportionate” manner that is consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law. 

As of 25 March, Thailand has 934 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 70 of these cases have already been discharged from hospital, while 4 people have died.

NewsCOVID-19coronavirusState of emergencyEmergency Decree
Categories: Prachatai English

Measures under the Emergency Decree to address the COVID-19 outbreak must conform to international law, says ICJ

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 18:36
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 06:36 PMInternational Commission of Jurists

As the Thai government moves to exercise its power under the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation B.E. 2548 (2005) (“Emergency Decree”) to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, the ICJ would like to reiterate its recommendations made since 2005 regarding lawful and proportionate exercise of this power in a manner consistent with Thailand's obligations under international law.

We urge the Thai Government to take these recommendations into consideration when imposing any measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

(1) A state of emergency used to justify any permissible derogation from obligations under international human rights law must meet the standard that an emergency “threatens the life of the nation”, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Parliament should play an active role in providing oversight.

(2) Any limitations on or derogation from the exercise of internationally guaranteed rights should be limited in duration, strictly necessary, and proportionate to the specific threat posed.

(3) Derogating measures may only limit the scope of other rights to the extent strictly necessary to meet a threat to the life of the nation, but they may not suspend the applicability of any right in its entirety.

(4) This necessity must be continually re-assessed so that the derogating measures apply for the shortest time possible. Certain human rights, including the right to life, the right to life, the freedom from torture or ill-treatment, the essential elements of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy can never be restricted even in a state of emergency.

(5) It should be clearly stated which officials have responsibility for implementing the provisions of the emergency law and what their powers and responsibilities are.

(6)  All officials responsible for implementing the law should be explicitly stated to be under the authority of the ordinary law of Thailand, with no immunity for any criminal acts carried out in the exercise of their responsibilities.

(7) The decisions and actions of officials exercising powers under the emergency law should be subject to review by the courts.

Pick to PostInternational Commission of Jurists (ICJ)COVID-19coronavirusEmergency DecreeState of emergency
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[Infographics] COVID-19 in Numbers

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 16:44
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 04:44 PMPrachatai

Prachatai presents the statistics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, as of 24 March 2020. 

As of 24 March, Thailand has a total of 827 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the highest number in Bangkok at 349 cases, followed by Nonthaburi, Chonburi, Pattani, and Samut Prakarn at 48, 30, 26, and 26 respectively.

Most of the confirmed cases in Thailand are Thai nationals (596 cases), followed by Chinese nationals at 26 cases. A small number of cases are from European countries and other ASEAN countries.

Amoung ASEAN countries, as of 23 March, Malaysia has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, followed by Thailand and Indonesia. However, there is no report of COVID-19 cases in Laos. 

As of 25 March, Thailand now has 934 cases of COVID-19. 70 people who contracted the virus have now been discharged from hospital, while 4 people have died. 

For Prachatai English's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here

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Lopburi artillery centre renamed Fort Bhumibol

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 15:57
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 03:57 PMPrachatai

On Tuesday (24 March), an announcement was posted in the Royal Gazette stating that King Vajiralongkorn has approved a name change for two military bases in Lopburi, which were previously named after revolutionary leaders, renaming them after his parents.

The former site of the Phraya Phahonphonpayuhasena statue at the Fort Phaholyothin Artillery Centre

The announcement states that the Artillery Centre in Lopburi, known as “Fort Phaholyothin”, has been renamed “Fort Bhumibol,” after King Bhumibol, King Vajiralongkorn’s father. 

The Artillery Brigade Camp in Tha Khae Subdistrict, Lopburi, also known as “Fort Phibulsonggram” is also renamed “Fort Sirikit” after Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother.

The announcement did not state a reason for the name change, but the former names of both military camps are those of two leaders of the revolution of 1932, which ended the absolute monarchy in Thailand and marked the beginning of democracy: Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena (Phot Phahonyothin) and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

Around 26 January 2020, the statue of Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena, which once stood in front of the officers’ club building at the Artillery Centre in Lopburi, went missing. An officer at the Artillery Centre said that the statue was removed the previous week, but it is unclear where it has been moved to.

A statue of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhran which once stood at the National Defence College of Thailand (NDC) in Bangkok also went missing in the same week.

Monuments dedicated to the 1932 revolution and other legacies of the People’s Party have been the targets in a ‘memory war’ aiming to erase the remembrance of the People’s Party. Historians have suggested that this process has been going on for decades, but it has become more intense since the 2006 coup.

Several legacies of the People’s Party have already been destroyed, including the old Supreme Court complex, the People’s Party Plaque, and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi. It is still unclear where the plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument have disappeared to.

NewsPeople's PartyIconoclasmMemory politicsPlaek PhibunsongkhramPhraya PhahonphonphayuhasenaPhot PhaholyothinNational Defence CollegeFort Phaholyothin Artillery CentreFort Phibulsonggram
Categories: Prachatai English

HRW calls for Cambodian authorities to stop 'abusing people’s free speech rights '

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-03-25 13:53
Submitted on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 - 01:53 PMHuman Rights Watch

Cambodian authorities should stop arresting people for expressing concerns about COVID-19’s impact in Cambodia and claiming they are spreading so-called “fake news,” Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch has documented the arrests of 17 people since late January 2020 for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia. These include four members or supporters of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), all of whom remain in pretrial detention. The authorities also arrested and questioned a 14-year-old girl who expressed fears on social media about rumors of positive COVID-19 cases at her school and in her province. Twelve were released from detention after signing pledges to not spread “fake news” in the future and to apologize.

“The Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should stop abusing people’s free speech rights and instead focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.”

As of March 22, 86 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country. Prime Minister Hun Sen initially downplayed the risk of the virus spreading in Cambodia and on January 30 threatened to eject reporters or officials wearing face masks from a news conference. On March 17, he changed course and imposed a 30-day ban on arrivals from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, the United States, and Iran. However, joint military drills involving hundreds of Chinese soldiers proceeded as scheduled.

Hun Sen has so far failed to implement a public health campaign based on a strong disease surveillance system, develop the infrastructure for testing to detect cases and contain the outbreak, or even acknowledge the serious risk the virus carries for his population. The relatively low number of cases reported raises the question of whether sufficient tests are being conducted or necessary information is being shared with the people.

The 17 people arrested, among whom are 5 women, came from 7 provinces: Siem Reap, Pursat, Koh Kong, Phnom Penh, Takeo, Kampot, and Prey Veng. Those charged face penal code violations including incitement, conspiracy, and spreading false information.

In a March 9 speech, Hun Sen directly threatened to arrest Long Phary, a CNRP member in Prey Veng province. Phnom Penh police arrested him on March 18 and told him the arrest stemmed from a phone conversation in which Long Phary discussed rumors about the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The government did not say how it learned about the contents of a private phone call, but in the past, the government has engaged in unauthorized phone tapping of civil society activists and political opposition members. 

On March 17, Phnom Penh police arrested Ngin Khean, a 29-year-old CNRP youth member from Prey Veng province. The authorities alleged that he spread “fake news” on his Facebook page about the coronavirus. Ngin Khean is in pretrial detention at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison and has been charged with plotting and incitement to commit a felony.

On March 11, Siem Reap police arrested Phut Thona Lorn (also known as “Lorn Ly”), a local CNRP supporter. Prior to the arrest, Lorn Ly had shared two videos on his Facebook profile page in which the speaker said that the Cambodian government needed Vietnamese government assistance to learn about a foreign arrival to Cambodia who tested positive for the coronavirus. After the authorities accused Lorn Ly of spreading “fake news,” the Siem Reap provincial court charged him with spreading false information. The police said they had “monitored” Lorn Ly’s Facebook account for a week prior to the arrest but did not explain the legal basis for that surveillance. He is being held in pretrial detention at Siem Reap’s provincial prison.

On March 18, the Information Ministry claimed that 47 Facebook users and pages had spread misinformation regarding the virus, with the intention of causing fear in the country and damaging the government’s reputation. On March 20, Interior Minister Sar Kheng warned that anyone who spread misinformation about COVID-19 “to stir chaos” would face legal action.

Under international human rights law, the Cambodian government has an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds. Governments are responsible for providing information necessary for protecting and promoting rights, including the right to health. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health may not put in jeopardy the right itself. A rights-respecting response to COVID-19 needs to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information about the virus, access to services, notice of service disruptions, and other aspects of the response to the outbreak is readily available and accessible to all.

The Cambodian government’s harassment of political opposition members and supporters in the context of COVID-19 is part of a broader campaign against civil society activists, independent journalists, and ordinary people who express their views both online and offline, Human Rights Watch said. The government has repeatedly said it would adopt a “fake news” law, a cybercrime law, and amendments to the media law – all of which are likely to curtail the right to freedom of expression and to facilitate arbitrary and unfettered surveillance of those deemed dissidents.

The latest repression builds on the government’s campaign of harassment and arrest of CNRP members and supporters since the Supreme Court dissolved the party on political grounds in November 2017. Between August and November 2019, the authorities arbitrarily arrested or detained more than 60 CNRP members on various charges. Many were charged with incitement and plotting a coup because they organized to receive exiled CNRP leaders on their planned return to Cambodia on November 9. While authorities released many of the CNRP members on bail, all criminal charges against them remain pending.

“It’s truly frightening that during a national crisis, the Cambodian government seems more interested in silencing online critics than undertaking a massive COVID-19 public information campaign,” Robertson said. “Foreign governments and donors promoting human rights should press the Cambodian government to adopt a rights-respecting approach in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, starting with upholding freedom of expression.”

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