Since the coup d’état on 22 May, Thais have lived with their freedoms and liberties limited. Eating sandwiches and reading George Orwell’s 1984 in public have become crimes. Imitating the Hunger Game’s three-finger salute can land you in jail for seven days. People live in fear that they may be summoned and detained in a military camp. All kinds of media are heavily monitored. Plainclothes police are all over the famous shopping district in Bangkok every Sunday to keep an eye on anyone about to take out a sandwich to eat in public.
So far, at least 454 have been officially summoned through televised announcements and an additional 57 informally summoned in the provinces. Also, at least 178 have been arrested, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a group of human rights lawyers and social activists which provides legal aid to people affected the enforcement of law by the junta.
The following is a summary of the latest report by the TLHR on the situation of human rights violations after the coup and its recommendations.
Current directives of the NCPO that have infringed on people’s rights and liberties
In total, 70 directives have been issued which impose restrictions on individual rights and freedoms. These include martial law, a ban on gatherings of more than five people, summoning individuals to ‘report’, restrictions on press freedom, and precedence of military courts over civilian offences.
Summons and arrests made after the coup
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have gathered information on the number of summons and arrests by the NCPO. At least 454 were called in publicly and an additional 57 informally summoned in the provinces. Also, at least 178 have been arrested. Of these, the names of 113 were not announced prior to their arrests, 55 were apprehended during public demonstrations and 10 arrested for failing to report. Amongst the 214 individuals who have been detained and then discharged, 25 were discharged within one day, 18 detained for two days, 35 detained for three days, 28 detained for four days, 19 detained for five days, 28 detained for six days, 53 detained for seven days and 1 detained for eight days. There is at least 1 person who was detained for more than seven days and amongst those discharged, criminal charges have been pressed against at least 55.
People who have been summoned include politicians, core leaders of protests, businessmen, academics, and social activists. Upon reporting, they were immediately denied any form of contact with others. While some were released on the same day, others were transferred to various facilities. Although they were allowed to be accompanied by another person during the transfer, they were housed separately during detention. If the detainee was transferred to another location, the accompanying person was not informed of the detainee’s whereabouts, but instead told that the detainee had been transferred and was no longer contactable.
Upon reporting, many found themselves blindfolded or hooded with plastic bags so that they would be unaware of where they were taken to. They were mostly detained in military barracks and were allowed to contact their relatives in the presence of military officers. During detention, interrogation was carried out to “exchange opinions” or to “tame their opinions”. Personal information including passwords for their social media accounts and details about other people assumed to be related to the detainees were extracted. They were also questioned on sources of funding, political activism and opinions. After the interrogation, they had to promise not to get involved in political activism and to remain in Thailand.
If no charges were pressed against the detainees, they would be released at a police station within 3, 5 or 7 days after been arrested. Some have been subjected to more than 7 days of detention. If they faced criminal charges, including offences against Article 112 of the Penal Code (lèse majesté law), they were denied bail.
Common charges pressed against the detainees include violation of the ban of political gatherings, gathering with intent to cause public disorder, being leaders of a protest, violation of Penal Code Article 215 for failing to disperse when ordered to do so, and violation of Articles 216 and 116 for inciting violence if the detainees persuaded others to participate in protests. Those who have failed to report are charged with violating an official order.
Those charged with violating the command of the NCPO before 25 May 2014 will be tried in a civilian court. In such cases, the detainees are entitled to rights according to the normal juridical process. Those charged with violating the commands of the NCPO after 25 May 2014 will be brought before a military court. Even if they are granted bail, they will still be brought to prison prior to temporary release.
Only one person has been granted temporary release at a police station. Of those charged at the Crime Suppression Division, none have been granted bail. At the military court, some were bailed out and the process took longer than in civilian courts. Bail amounts range from 10,000 to 40,000 baht with a maximum of 400,000 baht. The military court has denied bail for some cases i.e. those charged with possession of weapons and violations of Article 112, for fear that the alleged offenders would flee. In civilian courts, detainees have been entitled to bail for various offences except violation of Article 112.
Implications after release
Having given up passwords to their social media accounts, detainees upon release have no more privacy and this has affected their daily lives. The detainees are unable to express themselves freely in social media and are also unable to take part in demonstrations or political activities. They are barred from travelling out of the country without permission. Should they fail to act accordingly, the authorities reserve the right to freeze their assets.
The general public has become wary of military officials visiting their neighbourhood, especially if they or their relatives are red shirt supporters. Martial law has restricted people’s rights to freedom of expression and taking any symbolic action against the coup. Such restrictions have severely affected the media, with control and censorship placed upon media outlets.
Legal opinions towards the current situation
1 There were no violent incidents requiring the imposition of martial law, which is therefore not necessary. It should be replaced by civilian law which is enough to hold people responsible for their crimes.
2 Press freedom is pivotal in a democracy to disseminate information and opinions from all sides. This is important to ensure that people are well informed and for the truth to be reported to the public. It is important for decisions on censorship and media control to be revoked.
3 The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are important to democracy. The prohibition on political gatherings and deprivation of the right to freedom of expression is a serious violation of personal rights and liberties, which must be ended.
4 The orders by the NCPO to summon more than 500 individuals to report is an arbitrary violation of personal rights since there are no clear guidelines for this exercise of power by the military and no reasons have been provided as to why a person is summoned. Additionally, there is an infringement of personal rights when a detainee is required to agree to conditions set out by the NCPO.
5 Arbitrary arrest without any clear guidelines is a violation of people’s liberties. Also, the inappropriate treatment of detainees is not consistent with human rights standards.
6 Civilians should not be tried by military courts as this is the dominance of a single power and an infringement of the rule of law since no independent and impartial judiciary is available.
Recommendations by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
1 Revocation of martial law and its replacement with the normal judicial process
2 Rescission of censorship and media control
3 An end to the detention and prosecution of peaceful demonstrators and revocation of the order to ban public assembly
4 An end to summons
5 No preconditions imposed for the release of detainees, and clear guidelines on arrests and detentions in compliance with human rights principles
6 An end to trials of civilians in military courts and rescission of the jurisdiction of military courts over certain criminal offences
7 Recognition of persons prosecuted according to the Penal Code of offences related to national security as political prisoners to be held in custody separate from other offenders.