Release the Students and Allow Free Campaigning Around the Referendum

On 23 June 2016, students and a group of labor union board members campaigned around the Bang Phli Industrial Estate to disseminate information about the draft constitution and urge people to exercise their right to vote in the referendum. But soldiers and police interrupted and stopped them. They were arrested and accused of violating Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558 [2015] and the Referendum Act of B.E. 2559 [2016]. The military court ultimately denied the request for temporary release of the 7 students and they are currently detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
 
The aforementioned actions of the soldiers and police constitute a violation of the basic right of expression of political views and obstruction of the exchange of information and opinions about the draft constitution among the people, which is necessary in order for the referendum vote to be free and fair. The campaigning around the referendum by the students and labor union board members was peaceful, orderly and open. They did not violate the law or infringe upon anyone else’s rights or freedom. They were taking action to encourage the people to become aware of their rights and receive complete information in order to make a decision that will determine their future.
 
Further, the Referendum Act of B.E. 2559 [2016] contains provisions that infringe on the rights and freedom of the people. This is particularly the case with Article 61, which threatens the people’s expression of opinions in good faith. The use of this Act to arrest and prosecute those who campaign around the referendum is therefore illegitimate.
 
If the referendum on 7 August is to be accepted as legitimate, it must take place in an atmosphere of freedom, rather than the current atmosphere of oppression, coercion, and the instigation of fear. Instead, it is becoming apparent that the referendum campaign carried out by the state can be characterized as a one-sided emphasis on only the merits of the draft constitution while disallowing and forbidding the presentation of differing views. This is the case with the students and labor union board members who were obstructed, arrested, and detained for offering such a differing view. At the same time, activists and politicians who support the draft constitution are able to fully express their opinions in public. In addition, state officials around the country have been mobilized to meet with the people in order to provide a one-sided explanation of the merits of the draft constitution. Taken together, this will make the referendum unfree, illegitimate and unacceptable.
 
The Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC), together with those signed below, demand that the NCPO do the following:
  1.  Immediately and unconditionally release the 7 students who were campaigning around the referendum on the draft constitution;
  2. Cease obstructing, threatening, and arresting those who campaign around the referendum and express differing views about the draft constitution in an orderly, peaceful and open manner, and allow the free presentation of views to accept or reject the draft constitution through various channels; and
  3. Promise to the public that the referendum on 7 August will be free and fair so that it will reflect the true demands and wishes of the people. This means allowing campaigning around the referendum from all sides and allowing all sides to present information on the merits and weaknesses of the draft constitution without obstruction by state officials.
With our faith in rights, freedom, and equality
 
Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC)
 
28 June 2016