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THAILAND: Anti-human rights forces dig in, regional group warns

(Hong Kong, December 9, 2010) Anti-human rights forces and their allies have re-emerged to take control of key national institutions in Thailand and are digging in to fight for political control of the country, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) warned on Thursday.

In its annual reports on human rights conditions in Asia released to coincide with International Human Rights Day, December 10, the Hong Kong-based regional rights group says that Thailand's resurgent internal security state exhibits "an original authoritarian style, with more refined public relations and a sharper concern for new types of political and technological threats to its authority" than its predecessors.

The regional rights group identifies its features as including "expanded use of emergency regulations to legitimate all state actions while also producing impunity; failure to meet obligations under international human rights law; the obfuscation of truth and curtailment of justice; and failure of the country’s human rights institutions to perform according to their mandate".

It expresses concern over the "eliminating of any middle ground in which citizens might express their views without fear of criminalization or violence".

The 21-page chapter on Thailand, "The internal security state digs in", includes a review of the events of April-May 2010, in which a government crackdown on protestors in Bangkok left at least 91 dead and over 2100 injured,

The AHRC highlights the use of orders for people to turn themselves over for questioning under the emergency regulations imposed in response to the protests, which it describes as having "over many decades been associated with gross and widespread human rights violations in Thailand".

It recounts a number of cases of persons arrested and prosecuted under the emergency decree, including the case of protestor and political activist Sombat Boonngammanong, the case of a high school student initially ordered to undergo psychological assessment for participating in a small peaceful protest in Chiang Mai, and the case of Amornwan Charoenkij, a vendor arrested for selling flip-flops bearing the face of the prime minister and political messages.

It also draws attention to how the emergency regulations in Thailand clearly violate international law and are contrary to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it points out, is consistent with the government of Thailand's non-compliance with treaties and agreements to which it has committed itself.

"Despite the persistent and flagrant violation of international law through application of these states of emergency, and notwithstanding the calls of human rights organizations, the UN Human Rights Council has remained mute on the rapidly deteriorating situation of human rights in Thailand," the report states, noting that this is in part because Thailand's ambassador to the council, an apologist for gross human rights abuses in his country, is currently the council chairman.

The AHRC annual report also takes up a number of cases that are emblematic of the bad and worsening human rights situation in the country.

These include the continuing struggles for justice of the relatives of disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, victim of alleged police torture and killing during the war on drugs, Kiettisak Thitboonkrong; and Imam Yapa Kaseng, who died in a police vehicle parked at an army compound during March 2009.

More than six years after the police abducted and presumably killed Somchai, the appeal cases remain pending and the one person found guilty of any offence in connection with the case is suspected of having faked his death, the AHRC writes. It also points to renewed threats by ultra-conservative establishment forces on the torture victims whom Somchai represented before his disappearance.

"The case of Somchai Neelaphaijit and his clients is just one instance of how persons who have attempted to challenge the impunity of the police in Thailand have themselves ended up exposed and threatened," the AHRC says in the report.

"In every case where ordinary citizens and residents of Thailand have taken on the police that the AHRC has documented to date, in whatever part of the country, and irrespective of other factors, the police have escaped culpability and the victims have themselves been made to pay the price for their demands for truth and justice," it adds.

The report closes with sections on the performance of Thailand's human rights commission as an anti-human rights agency, and with the crackdown on free expression in the country through the use of lese-majesty and computer crimes laws.

"Independent voices and actors have been targeted in increasingly frequent, increasingly cynical and increasingly ridiculous criminal actions that are having the effect of greatly reducing the opportunities for sensible and informed debate on the serious problems that the country is facing, as well as pushing the judicial system further and further into a system for the pursuit of blatant political ends through superficially legal means," the AHRC says.

"In today’s resurgent internal security state of Thailand a peaceful protest from the middle ground may land the protestor in jail for at least seven years, and the establishing of a website for the voicing of independent opinion can risk the site director half a century of prison time," it observes.

"But to abduct and kill a human rights defender carries the prospect of no more than a year or two behind bars—if the perpetrator can even be brought to court—and the assault, torture and sharp-shooting in the name of the Kingdom of red-shirted protestors armed with catapults, fireworks, sharpened sticks and smelly fish is an act of bravery, deserving not of punishment but of promotion," the report concludes damningly.

The AHRC has prepared similar reports for other countries throughout Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Korea.

All reports can be downloaded from: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/

The report on Thailand is available in PDF format directly from: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/AHRC-SPR-011-2010.pdf

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