In Freedom House’s 2021 global freedom analysis, Thailand scores 30 out of 100, 2 points less than last year, due to a poor performance in many aspects of political rights and civil liberties. This has brought down the country’s status from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’.
A protester raising a three-finger salute during the police use of tear gas in November 2020.
Freedom House’s report Freedom in the World gives as reasons for the decline in status the dissolution of Future Forward Party, which the report describes as “a popular opposition party that had performed well in the 2019 elections,” and the crackdown on youth-led protests by the “military-dominated government”.
Scores are based on 2 categories. Thailand scores 5 out of 40 on Political Rights and 25 out of 60 Civil Liberties.
Key Developments in 2020 raised by the Freedom House
- According to University of Oxford researchers, Thailand registered under 7,500 confirmed cases and 63 COVID-19 deaths, making it one of the countries least severely affected by the pandemic. In March, the government issued an emergency decree, which it subsequently extended and tightened, that included measures widely criticized as empowering the regime against dissent rather than addressing the pandemic’s economic and social impact.
- In February, the opposition Future Forward Party was dissolved following a Constitutional Court ruling that its founder had used an illegal donation to fund the party. The Court’s ruling also removed several legislators from parliament and banned 10 members of the party’s leadership from politics for 10 years.
- Large youth-led protests, which began in February but were curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions, recommenced in July following an easing of lockdown measures. Hundreds of thousands of mostly student protesters participated in multiple anti-government protests throughout the country, calling for an end to harassment of activists, abolition of Thailand’s parliament, constitutional reform, and reform of the powerful monarchy.
- In October, the government declared a “severe” state of emergency, banning gatherings of more than five people and initiating a crackdown against protesters and movement leaders. Beginning in November, lèse-majesté charges were leveled against dozens of activists, prompting human rights groups to express concern over the crackdown.
The 2014 coup, which led to a ban on many political activities and the appointment by the junta of senators and other officers of the state, is recognized as an obstacle in many aspects of political freedom. The 2017 constitution is also seen as an obstacle to free and fair elections and a strong parliamentary system. A propaganda-like public education system aiming to instil obedience to the monarchy and military is also mentioned.
The political role of the monarchy is mentioned in the report, such as the televised announcement condemning Princess Ubolratana’s bid to run for prime minister and the King’s statement on the eve of the 2019 election urging citizens to vote for “good people” to prevent “chaos”, a message widely understood as a royal endorsement of pro-military parties.
In 2019, King Vajiralongkorn also transferred 2 elite army units to the direct command of the palace.
In terms of freedom of expression, the report states that anyone perceived as a critic of the military or the monarchy remains at high risk of surveillance, arrest, imprisonment, harassment and physical attack. The Computer Crime Act is mentioned as a tool to restrict online expression, surveillance and censorship. The lèse majesté law (Criminal Code Section 112) is also mentioned as a tool to suppress the voice of critics.
Thailand scores low on freedom of assembly, civil society space, due process, an independent judiciary, academic freedom and the rights of marginalized people. The categories where Thailand scores the highest are freedom of religion, freedom of movement and personal social freedoms.
The report is compiled annually by a team of in-house and external analysts and expert advisers from academia, think tanks and the human rights community. The 2021 edition involved over 125 analysts and nearly 40 advisers who collected and analysed data from many sources and was reviewed and published after a consensus among the analysts, outside advisers and Freedom House staff.
In the years since 2018, Thailand has scored 31, 30, 32 and 30, vacillating between ‘Not Free’ and ‘Partly Free’.
Among neighbouring countries, China scores 9, Lao PDR 13, Vietnam 19, Cambodia 24, Myanmar 28, Singapore 43, Malaysia 51, and Indonesia 59. The 3 countries with complete freedom are Finland, Norway and Sweden.