UN Human Rights Commissioner urges Thai junta to respect free speech

UN Human Rights High Commissioner has urged the Thai junta to respect freedom of expression to ensure open discussion during the drafting of constitution. 

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Thursday pointed out his concerns on the imposition of the martial law, which has given to the military the power to crack down on political dissent and opposition.

“In Thailand, which was once a force for democracy in the ASEAN context, the military authorities continue to silence opposition under martial law. More than 1,000 people have been summoned or detained since the May 2014 coup, and many of them brought before military courts. The legal prohibition on criticism of the monarchy has been increasingly deployed. At a time when a new constitution is being drafted, freedom of expression is needed to ensure genuine debate.” stated the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

This was part of the opening statement given by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Earlier, Gen Thanasak Patimaprakorn, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who represented Thailand at same meeting, on Wednesday said that Thailand has paid great attention to human rights, which apply to everyone equally.

“I stated before the meeting in confirmation that Thailand has given great importance to human rights to create national stability and make people, such as children, women, the disabled, the old and even migrant labour enjoy comfortable living standards and equal rights,” said Gen Thanasak at the UN meeting on Wednesday.

Contrasting to Gen Thanasak’s speech, Thailand, since the 2014 coup, has seen the highest number of lèse majesté prisoners in any period of Thai history, according to iLaw.

Recently, Patiwat S. and Pornthip M., two student activists, were recently sentenced to five years imprisonment for their involvement in ‘The Wolf Bride’, a political play allegedly defaming the monarchy. The jail term, however, was halved because the two pleaded guilty.

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the verdict. “The imprisonment of the two “Wolf Bride” play activists is yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Thailand and another dark mark on Thailand’s already battered international reputation. Vowing to protect the monarchy, the NCPO junta has accelerated efforts to hunt down alleged lèse majesté actions and statements, and prosecuted people for peaceful expression of views, like conducting a play, posting online, or making a speech,” said Adams.

Since May 2014, the junta has used martial law to vigorously crackdown on political dissidents who hold events in defiance of the junta. In 2014, people were arrested for merely displaying the three-fingered salute, an anti-coup symbol adopted from the Hunger Games movie.

Read the full opening statement to the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council here