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Regional MPs urge Thai authorities to respect freedom of speech and assembly

Regional lawmakers today called on Thai authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop charges against human rights lawyer Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok, and to ensure that all those participating in peaceful protests can do so without fear of reprisals. 

Participants in the demonstration at Thammasat University's Rangsit Campus on 10 August flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute

“Peacefully voicing your opinion in public is not a crime. Those participating in peaceful protests should not do so at the cost of their liberty,” said Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament (MP) in Malaysia and chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). 

“The Thai authorities should know by now that their repeated attempts at silencing calls for greater democracy are not only illegal but also counterproductive. Thai youth in particular are hungry for change, and the authorities’ threats will merely strengthen their determination. Instead, Thai leaders might find that listening to those willing to peacefully discuss Thailand’s future will in fact be of greater benefit to the country,” Santiago said. 

On 7 August police officers arrested Anon Nampa and Panupong Chadnok, and the pair were later charged under a number of criminal offences including sedition, assembly, intending to cause violence, and violating the ban on public gatherings. If found guilty they could face years in prison. The two were released on bail the following day on the condition that they do not engage in the alleged offences for which they were arrested. 

The charges relate to their involvement in the peaceful pro-democracy “Free Youth” rally held in Bangkok on 18 July. At the event Anon Nampa called for a public debate on the role of the monarchy within Thai politics. According to news reports another 31 activists risk possible arrest, raising fears of a wider crackdown. 

The peaceful student pro-democracy movement, which started before the COVID-19 pandemic and has resumed nationwide in recent weeks, calls for an end to the harassment of political activists, the dissolution of parliament and revision of the Constitution. On the evening of 10 August, thousands joined an anti-government demonstration at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.  

Following a post-elections fact-finding mission last year, APHR found that the only avenue to restoring democracy in Thailand is to amend the current Constitution to ensure that all government representatives are democratically elected, for the separation of powers to be guaranteed, and for civilian oversight of the military to be restored within a properly functioning system of checks and balances. APHR also found that democracy activists and human rights defenders remain at risk in Thailand, and urged authorities to ensure that they can work in a safe and enabling environment free from fear of harassment, threats, surveillance, and physical attacks.