The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Prawet Prapanukul, a prominent human rights lawyer and critic of the monarchy, who has been missing since security forces raided his Bangkok home on April 29, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities have not acknowledged his arrest and detention, raising grave concerns that he is the victim of an enforced disappearance.
“The Thai junta should urgently disclose Prawet’s whereabouts and release him if he hasn’t been charged with a credible offense,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Secretly detaining rights lawyers, critics of the monarchy, and other dissidents has created a climate of fear in Thailand that is generating international outrage.”
Officers of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, together with soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and police from Bangkok’s Bang Khen Police Station, carried out a morning raid on Prawet’s house. An official receipt shows that Prawet’s computers, hard drives, flash drives, mobile telephones, CDs containing political programs, and various political T-shirts were confiscated. However, there is no official notification that Prawet was arrested or is in state custody.
Prawet, 57, is a well-known human rights lawyer who provided legal assistance to members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) – also known as the “Red Shirts” – in cases related to the 2010 political confrontations. He also served as legal counsel defending a critic of the monarchy, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, who was convicted for committing lese majeste (insulting the monarchy).
Since the May 2014 coup, the junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and others accused of being involved in anti-junta protests and activities, supporting the deposed civilian government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, or disrespecting or offending the monarchy. Contrary to the junta’s claims that military units always follow due process requirements when they arrest and detain someone, many detainees have reported that security personnel mistreated them during the arrest, locked them up incommunicado in military camps, and interrogated them without access to lawyers.
Under NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016, military authorities have the power to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards against mistreatment. The junta has repeatedly dismissed allegations that soldiers have tortured detainees but then failed to provide any evidence to rebut those allegations.
Human Rights Watch has frequently raised serious concerns regarding secret military detention in Thailand. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military custody.
On November 24, 2015, Human Rights Watch submitted a letter to the Thai government raising grave concerns about conditions at the 11th Military Circle Camp, where dissidents have routinely been held. The letter was prompted by the suspicious deaths of a fortune teller, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa during their detention there.
Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Since 1980, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand. None of these cases have been successfully resolved.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged successive Thai governments, including in a January 14 letter to Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, to ratify the Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to amend Thailand’s penal code to make enforced disappearance a criminal offense. Even though the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly approved the ratification of the Convention on March 10, it rejected a draft law drawn up by the Justice Ministry to criminalize torture and enforced disappearances.
“The Thai junta’s pledges at the UN and other international forums to respect rights sound increasingly hollow,” Adams said. “Concerned governments should press General Prayut to end all arbitrary arrests, secret detentions, and enforced disappearances by releasing Prawet and all the others wrongfully held.”