Mahidol’s rights institute under fire over draft charter infographics

The Thai authorities threatened to sue a human rights institute of one of Thailand’s leading universities over infographics about the public referendum on the draft charter.

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, Election Commissioner of Thailand (ECT), told media that a serie of infographics explaining about the upcoming referendum to pass the junta-sponsored draft constitution titled ‘Chapter 2: Main question and the Question Attached’ must be removed, the Independent News Network (INN) reported on Monday, 18 July 2016.

The election commissioner said that the infographics produced by the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University (IHRP) and published on its Facebook page contained biased information about the draft constitution.

It should be removed unless some of the information on the infographics are amended, Somchai warned. He then implied that the infographic slides could be deemed illegal under the Draft Referendum Act.

Eakpant Pidavanija, Director of the IHRP, however, denied the claims of the ECT, saying that the infographics explaining about the draft constitution do not contain distorted or biased information as alleged, Matichon Online reported.

“It’s not likely to violate the Draft Referendum Act, for it does not contain information, which deviate from facts,” said Eakpant. “It depends on the understanding and judgement of readers. We will continue to publish the infographics until Chapter 6 as initially planned.”

IHRP Director added that the main reason for publishing such infographics is to explain different political ramifications based on possible outcomes of the referendum in easy format. Therefore, people could have better understanding about the upcoming draft charter referendum and its significance.

Last week, Somchai told the media after a meeting with the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) that leaflets entitled ‘7 Reasons Not to Accept the Draft Constitution’ are not allowed to be distributed.

He said then that the leaflets published by the New Democracy Movement (NDM), a well-known anti-junta activist group, distort facts about the draft constitution specifically on the policies for universal health care, 12 years of free schooling and allowances for senior citizens.

Under the controversial Article 61 of the Draft Referendum Act, 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, could face up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and loss of electoral rights for five years.

The first slide of the second series of infographics explaining about the possible political outcomes of the draft constitution referendum produced and published by Mahidol University’s human rights institute (photo from IHRP’s Facebook)