The protesters at the 17 November protest in the middle of the police tear gas and water cannon shooting.

Police response to protests unjust, so lawyers strike back

After more than 4 months of pro-democracy protests and resulting state persecution, human rights lawyers have formed a Human Rights Lawyers Alliance to monitor and sue the authorities for abuse of power and to protect human rights.

From left to right: Rattasak Anantariyakul, Yaowalak Anuphan, Amarin Saichan, Nadthasiri Bergman, Nattida Choomalaiwong and Koreeyor Manuchae.

The Alliance of 9 organizations working on human rights-related legal issues was officially launched on 8 December, after several months of working together in handling police prosecutions and harassment of people who have taken to the streets calling for political and monarchy reform. The Alliance aims to achieve 4 goals:

  • Protecting human rights
  • Monitoring, restraining and deterring the authorities’ use of power
  • Creating understanding and exposing to the public state abuse of power
  • Calling for respect for human rights in the judicial process

The Alliance members are the Human Rights Lawyers Association, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the EnLAW Foundation, the Cross Cultural Foundation, United Lawyers For Rights and Liberty, the Legal Rights and Environmental Protection Association, iLaw, the Muslim Attorney Centre and the Community Resource Centre Foundation.

Nattida Choomalaiwong of the Human Rights Lawyers Association said the Alliance was prompted over concern at the authorities’ discriminatory response to the pro-democracy protests with harsh legal prosecutions, harassment and crackdowns, unlike pro-government protesters which enjoy freedom to express their views.

This undermines freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and democratization of the country and also runs the risk of triggering conflict among those who hold different ideas.

A water cannon shooting at the protesters and reporters who were hiding behind the police-established barriers in the 17 November protest.

Rattasak Anantariyakul of United Lawyers for Rights and Liberty said the rule of law has been distorted since the 2014 coup. Laws were made, enforced and interpreted widely in order to suppress people's exercise of rights and freedom. The Alliance has been formed to call for a return of the rule of law. Otherwise, the hope for equality before the law cannot be achieved.

“We, therefore, voice our call to those in the judicial process, be they the police, prosecutors or courts, please turn back to review the role, review the provisions of the law because what you are doing now, goes against the law, against the rule of law.”, said Rattasak.

Huge number of charges for taking to the streets

Yaowalak Anuphan, head of TLHR, reported the case statistics from the first protest on 18 July to the night of 7 December. In the past 4 months and 20 days, 220 people have faced 119 charges. Most are related to unannounced protests under the Public Assembly Act.

149 people have been charged with violations of the emergency decree, and 18 charges are related to the withdrawn severe state of emergency. There are also 56 people who were arrested on the spot during the 16 October crackdown.

Among all those charged, 5 are under the age of 18 who face 7 charges. The lowest age is 16. The sedition law has been used against a 17-year-old youth.

24 people have been charged under Section 112 of the Criminal Code (the lèse majesté law), 53 under Section 116 (the sedition law), and 5 under Section 110 (violating the Queen’s liberty).

Those who face the most charges are:

  • Parit Chiwarak, 21 charges, including 7 for lèse majesté
  • Anon Nampa, 14 charges, including 3 for lèse majesté
  • Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, 12 charges, including 3 for lèse majesté
  • Panupong Jadnok, 12 charges, including 2 for lèse majesté
  • Shinawatra Chankrajang, 16 charges, half of them for unannounced protests

“The state applies laws to suppress people who express opinions that are opposite to the state’s. This, the number reflects clearly. Another thing is that there is a culture of impunity for state agents in prosecuting cases against the people. Once there is no accountability for officials who threaten the people or use their power in an arbitrary way, it shows that the state uses the law to manage and suppress the people in large numbers,” said Yaowalak.

Fight arbitrary use of power with lawsuits

Nadthasiri  Bergman from the NSP Legal Office said her office is dealing with a case where police charged 2 people for involvement in the protest on 19-20 September even though they were not there. Had the police properly looked at the evidence, the two would not be burdened by charges for a crime that they have not committed.

She said the accused are burdened with having to spend time and resources to fight the case. They will also have criminal records of their names and fingerprints . NSP will file a lawsuit against the investigative officers for negligence under Sections 157 and 200 of the Criminal Code on 9 December.

Amarin Saichan of the EnLAW Foundation said the Alliance has previously filed lawsuits for compensation from the 16 October crackdown and called for cancellation of the severe state of emergency, since some people still face charges for violation of the emergency decree despite it having been withdrawn on 22 October.

The Alliance is also currently looking into police abuse of power in firing tear gas-infused water against protesters at the 17 November protest in front of Parliament. This is not in line with the universal and constitutional right to freedom of peaceful association and assembly and the guidelines for handling protests drafted by the police themselves.

Amarin said the lawsuit not only seeks compensation, but also aims to create a standard for future protests for the state to be aware of and respect the people’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In general, the pro-democracy protests have in fact been staged in a peaceful manner in line with the universal and constitutional principles of political rights.

Source: 
prachatai.com/journal/2020/12/90741