Authorities to ban t-shirts campaigning against draft charter

The Thai election commission has warned that people selling t-shirts with prints about the referendum on the junta-sponsored draft constitution might face up to 10 years imprisonment.

On Wednesday, 4 May 2016, Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, Election Commissioner of Thailand (ETC), told media that certain political groups might be charged under the Draft Referendum Act for selling t-shirts with images or texts about the referendum on the draft constitution.

From the reports, those selling the 300 baht t-shirts are persuading people to vote in a certain way. Therefore, such actions might be illegal under Article 5 and Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act, said Somchai.    

“From what I understood, the images promoting the t-shirts probably appeared before 23 April 2016 before the [Draft Referendum] Act came into force, so it wasn’t counted. However, such images are still on the [facebook] page of that particular political group. So, I have to warn that such images must be removed. Otherwise, they might get arrested if some people file charges against them,” the ETC commissioner said.

Article 61 of the Referendum Act imposes a prison term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and loss of electoral rights for five years on anyone who publishes or distributes content about the draft constitution which deviates from the facts, contains rude and violent language, or threateningly discourages voters from participating in the referendum.

On Tuesday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), issued a statement on the upcoming referendum, saying that people should have the freedom to criticise the draft constitution. The NHRC added that the Referendum Act should be interpreted in ways which do not prevent people from expressing their thoughts on the draft constitution.

According to Pairoj Polpetch, a human rights activist and former member of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand (LRTC), the current political environment is not conducive for a public referendum on the draft as Articles 10 and 61 of the controversial Public Referendum Act allow only the authorities to conduct campaigns to promote the draft constitution while limiting the rights and liberties of critics of the draft constitution

Last week, Jiraphan Tanmani, President of the Rathawatanamani Fund -- an organization raising funds to promote autism rights -- was arrested for publishing content that was alleged to be severe, aggressive and rude with the intention of persuading the public to accept or not accept the draft charter in the August referendum.

She was arrested under Article 61 of the Referendum Act only eight hours after Somchai, Election Commissioner of Thailand, filed the complaint on the case.