The UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia has called on the Government of Thailand to release and drop charges against all those arrested during a peaceful demonstration against the construction of a 2200 MW coal powered plant in Songkla province, in southern Thailand.
On Monday 27 November, around 100 villagers from Thepa district organised a rally to submit a petition to the Prime Minister who was visiting the region. The Royal Thai Police, with support from the local military officials, intervened in the demonstration and arrested 17 men, including a local journalist and a 16-year-old child.
Sixteen persons have been charged for obstructing traffic under the Road Traffic Act and for resisting officials in the exercise of their duty under Section 138 of the Criminal Code. If found guilty, the villagers could be jailed for up to two years. Fifteen persons still remain in detention while the 16-year-old child was released on bail yesterday
"Peaceful protests are an integral part of democratic societies to ensure accountability and public participation," said the South-East Asia Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office, Cynthia Veliko.
In recent years, the UN Human Rights Office has received reports of intimidation by authorities and companies against community members and activists who peacefully oppose development initiatives due to environmental, health and livelihood concerns.
Community members and activists in Thailand have increasingly been killed, physically attacked, legally charged under criminal defamation, and are also prevented from peacefully demonstrating or participating in public discussions related to development projects.
These developments are contrary to Thailandâ€™s strong commitments made on the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
"It is essential that the Government take the necessary steps to ensure that public consultations are undertaken consistently and in a good faith, and that free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities are obtained in a meaningful manner, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Thailand," she stressed.
"We urge the authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and opinion, and to protect the physical integrity and safety of community members and human rights defenders in line with Thailandâ€™s commitment under international human rights law," Ms. Veliko added.