Referendum Act violates rights: Ombudsman’s Office

Thailand’s Office of the Ombudsman has concluded that the Referendum Act might be unconstitutional as its ambiguity allows the authorities to clamp down on the draft charter critics.

Raksagecha Chaechai, Secretary-General of the Office of the Ombudsman, on Wednesday, 1 June 2016, announced that the Ombudsman’s Office will submit a request to the Constitutional Court to rule whether the 2016 Referendum Act is unconstitutional or not.    

He said that Ombudsman’s Office has concluded that Article 61 of the Referendum Act allows the authorities to suppress critics of the junta-sponsored draft constitution because it is written ambiguously.

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.

“Even though ultimately, the court has the authority to consider cases [of offences against the Referendum Act], people are already affected,” said Raksagecha.

The Secretary-General said that the request will be sent to the Constitutional Court within this week.

The conclusion of the Ombudsman’s Office was reached weeks after 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), submitted a letter urging the Office to urgently review the act.

The letter pointed out 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 as Section 4 of the Interim Charter stipulates that Thai citizens are entitled to enjoy human rights as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

There were 107 signatories to the letter, which include former Election Commissioner Gothom Arya, Yaowalak Anuphan, Director of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Ekachai Chainuvati, a legal scholar from Siam University, and many other human rights activists and academics.  

   

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