Referendum Act contradicts Interim Charter: ex-rights commissioner

Former senators, human rights and election commissioners have pointed out that the laws regulating campaigns before the referendum to pass the junta-sponsored draft constitution ironically go against the junta’s Interim Charter.

Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and current director of iLaw, a human rights advocacy group, Kraisak Choonhavan, former senator, and Niran Pitakwatchara, former member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), on Tuesday, 10 May 2016, submitted a letter to Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Office of the Ombudsman.

There are 107 signatories to the letter, which include former Election Commissioner Kotom Areeya, Yaowalak Anupan, Director of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Ekachai Chainuwat, law academic from Siam University, and many other human rights activists and academics.  

The letter urges the Ombudsman’s Office to urgently review the Public Referendum Act and send the case to the Constitutional Court, saying that Article 61 of the Referendum Act contradicts the 2014 Interim Charter, which was imposed by the junta themselves after the 2014 coup d’état.

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.

According to Niran, the law contradicts Section 4 of the 2014 Interim Charter which stipulates that Thai citizens are entitled to enjoy human rights as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Jon pointed out that with the enactment of this law, even if the draft constitution written by the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) passes the public referendum, it will not be legitimate as the people have not been given the right to criticise the draft.

Ekachai, the law lecturer, told the media that even law experts are fearful of the current Referendum Act as it is written ambiguously and lays out a penalty of 10 years imprisonment for critics of the draft.

As the future constitution belongs to everybody, people should be given the rights and liberties to criticise it, said Ekachai.

In response to the statement by the group, the Secretary-General of the Ombudsman’s Office said that the Office will consider whether the demands to amend the Referendum Act from the group will be further submitted to the Constitutional Court for consideration.

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, Election Commissioner, last week announced that certain political groups might be charged under the 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. Such actions might be illegal under Articles 5 and 61 of the Public Referendum Act, said Somchai.    

In late April, 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 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 filed a complaint.

Jon Ungpakorn hands the letter to Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Ombudsman’s Office of Thailand on 10 May 2016