AHRC 'gravely concerned' about Intimidation and detention of land rights activists

The Asian Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned to have learned that on Sunday, 9 November 2014, the military detained Praphat Pintobtaeng, a lecturer from the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University, and three additional people in Chiang Mai who were participating in a walk rally to protest the policy of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to reclaim forest areas and dispossess villagers living within them. Organized by the Northern Farmers' Federation (NFF), a long-standing network advocating for land rights in the northern region, the Land Reform Network of Northern Thailand,and other civil society groups, the walk was initially intended to cover the area between Chiang Mai and Bangkok and aimed to raise awareness about the large number of evictions which have taken place since the 22 May 2014 due to the policies of the NCPO. The activists were only able to walk fifty meters before they were stopped and arrested by soldiers from Army Unit 33, based in Chiang Mai. The four activists who were detained were released after thirty minutes, but the walk rally was not permitted to continue. While the AHRC welcomes the quick release of the four activists, this is a clear indication of the ongoing expansion of the constriction of freedom of expression and political freedom that has characterized the rule of the NCPO.
 
According to the information provided to the AHRC, there were approximately 200 people who were gathered peacefully at Suan Dok Temple in Chiang Mai city. The event was to begin with a series of ceremonies by the different ethnic groups present to remember the human rights defenders (HRDs) who have been killed during land rights struggles since the 1960s. They then planned to continue with the walk rally in order to urge the government to redress the problems caused by NCPO Order No. 64/2557 [2014], which aims to end encroachment on protected areas.  The planned walk rally following a petition submitted to the government in June and a request to review actions carried out under the order in late July.  They also submitted a further petition to the governors in nine northern provinces in October, but there was no response. At the conclusion of the planned walk rally, they planned to submit a petition to Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
 
Shortly after the ceremonies began at 1 pm, a group of approximately 100 army and police officers and two big army trucks arrived. The soldiers carried shields and stood in two rows to block the people gathered from beginning to walk. Shortly thereafter, Praphat and the other activists were arrested and placed in vehicle outfitted for mobile confinement.  They were released and promised that the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources would consider their complaints. Subsequently, the Chief of Staff of Army Unit 33 asked the leaders to cooperate with martial law and not continue with the demonstration or proceed with the walk and again promised that the relevant national authorities would come to meet with them at a later date in November.
 
This is not the first time that the NCPO has targeted activists and citizens attempting to have public dialogue about land, environmental or resource issues that directly affect their lives.
 
 
On 17 July 2014, Prom Jarana, a human rights defender and land rights activist with the Assembly of the Poor in Buriram was arrested and detained for his work against evictions (AHRC-STM-138-2014). On 20 August 2014, eleven activists of the Partnership on Energy Reform were arrested while carrying out a peaceful and non-partisan walk calling for public discussion and to encourage citizens to be actively engaged in decisions about energy development(see the statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Center, the AHRC's sister organization on this incident: ALRC-CWS-27-12-2014
 
Since the coup, the NCPO has used a combination of summons, arbitrary arrest and detention, criminal prosecution and proceedings in military tribunals to silence those who question the junta and the monarchy. What the intimidation, harassment, and arrests of land rights and other activists indicates is that the NCPO is not only interested in eliminating dissent that directly targets them, but instead limiting the exercise of basic civil and political rights by citizens.
 
 
The Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned that the terms of martial law, various orders of the NCPO, and Article 44 of the interim constitution, which provides the NCPO and the Cabinet with the authority to take any actions necessary to preserve national security, have provided the legal infrastructure for the systematic stripping of basic freedoms and human rights protections in Thailand. Nearly six months have passed since the coup in Thailand and there is no clear sign of when martial law will be revoked.  The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the coup in the strongest possible terms and calls for an immediate return to a civilian government and the protection of human rights.