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Community based WHRD visited by police officer after publicly demanding Emergency Decree to be revoked

The woman human right defender of the anti-mining Rak Ban Haeng Group in Lampang received a visit and intimidation by the police on Thursday, after publicly reading statement echoing the calls of the People’s Movement of 5 Regions that demands the government to revoke Emergency Decree.

Sommai Harntecha (centre) reading the statement calling for the government to revoke the Emergency Decree (Source: Protection International)

Sommai Harntecha was one of dozens of members of the Rak Ban Haeng group seen in a video uploaded around 11am to Lampangmining Facebook page, which is used by Rak Ban Haeng group to share news and information regarding the campaign. The video saw her reading the public statement demanding the government to revoke Emergency Decree along with other members of the group.  Around 11.30, three police officers who did not identify their names and coming from Ngao District police station in Lampang, came to look for her in the village.

The police officers were inquiring Sommai about reasons for gathering and relating to the video, in which she replied that the it was to discuss the land issues. The police later told her that the group should not mention or do any public activities regarding the Emergency Decree, as it was “the issue of public matter.”

On Tuesday, the People’s Network of 5 Regions submits a letter, signed by  more than 390 entities, to the government and the Ombudsman to demand the government to revoke the Emergency Decree. The group pointed out that the Decree allows for blanket use of powers without required check and balance, causing worries about abuse of power unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic control. Earlier on Monday, the Commoner’s Party also submitted similar call to the whip of the opposition parties.

Today, 3 community-based, anti-mining W/HRDs groups in Lampang Province, Nongbualamphu Province and Chaiyaphum Province also echoes the demands of the Network, stating that the Emergency Decree is depriving rights and liberty of people, especially those who are opposing development projects but cannot exercise their freedom of assembly. The Emergency Decree should be revoked as there are other available laws to control the current pandemic situation, the groups said.

Protection International, Thailand deplores such actions as it violates the people’s rights to exercise their human rights, including their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The government must not exploit the pandemic situation to increase the sufferings of the people by intimidations and/or prosecutions of women/human rights defenders.

The government should not use the draconian Emergency Decree to quash dissent, control the population, or as a means to perpetuate their time in power, as also was a recommendation by UNOHCHR to governments on 27 April 2020. UNOHCHR also emphasized that undermining freedom expression “may do incalculable damage to the effort to contain COVID-19 and its pernicious socio-economic side-effects.”

Thailand must end harassment of human rights defenders and we called on the State not to use emergency declarations during the COVID-19 crisis to impose wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Governments and law enforcement agencies must act to prevent human rights abuses.