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UN urges Thailand to release students

BANGKOK (30 JUNE 2015) - The United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia (OHCHR) urges the Government to promptly drop criminal charges against students who have been arrested in Bangkok for peacefully demonstrating in public and release them from custody. It further urges the Government to review its use of laws that limit freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in line with its obligations under international human rights law.
 
On  26 June, police and soldiers arrested 14 students in Bangkok based on a warrant  issued  by  the military court for allegedly inciting unrest under section  116  of  the  Criminal Code. The charges relate to a demonstration held  by  the  students  at  the  Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 25 June. Section 116 carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
 
The  students  already  had  arrest warrants issued against them for having conducted  peaceful  demonstrations  in  Bangkok and Khon Kaen on 22 May to mark the first anniversary of the coup d’état, allegedly in breach of Order No.  3/2015  of  the  National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The NCPO Order  prohibits  political  gatherings  of  more  than  five people with a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
 
Another  two  students appeared at the military court in Bangkok on 29 June for   breaching   the   NCPO   order   for  participating  in  the  22  May demonstrations. One reported himself to the police on 22 June and was later released  on  bail.  The  other student was arrested at hospital based on a warrant while she was receiving medical treatment.
 
As  a  state  party  to  the  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,  Thailand  has  the  obligation  to  uphold the right to freedom of expression  (article  19)  and  the  right  to freedom of peaceful assembly (article 21). Although both articles allow the rights to be restricted, any restriction  has  to  be  by  law,  necessary  for a legitimate purpose and proportional  to  achieve  the  need.  OHCHR  is  concerned  that  criminal prosecutions  for  peaceful  assembly and expression that carry long prison terms are not necessary or proportional.
 
On  23  May  2014,  a  day  after  the coup d’état, the United Nations High Commissioner  for Human Rights publicly expressed serious concern about the restrictions  on  fundamental  freedoms  imposed  by  the NCPO, adding that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are particularly important in resolving  difficult political issues through dialogue and debate. Now more than one year on, despite pledges by the Government to promptly restore the rule of law, restrictions on fundamental freedoms remain in place.