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Police fine Amnesty staff member amid crackdown on freedom of expression

An Amnesty International staff member has been fined along with three other speakers and a panel moderator for taking part in a panel discussion on enforced disappearance on 4 July 2021.

Amnesty representatives at the Nang Leong Police Station yesterday (3 August) (Photo by Kan Sangtong)

Responding to the fining of an Amnesty International staff member, along with three speakers and a panel moderator, for taking part in a panel discussion on 4 July focusing on the enforced disappearances of Thai activists, including Wanchalearm Satsaksit, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:  

“Our member of staff was simply doing her job to raise awareness in Thailand of international human rights law. The Thai authorities should not be fining her, the organizers or other panelists for simply speaking about the Thai authorities’ human rights obligations and the long history of enforced disappearances in this region.”

“Amnesty International is a global human rights organization, and our job is to encourage all governments and non-state actors to comply with international human rights law.” 

“Human rights defenders play a crucial role in protecting freedoms within society. To intimidate and fine them represents a threat not only to these activists, but to anyone seeking to bravely defend the rights of others.” 

“The continuing pattern of enforced disappearances and the authorities’ crackdown on the right to freedom of expression are serious human rights concerns in Thailand. The authorities must urgently take responsibility and address these long-running issues.”

“The Thai authorities must stop issuing fines to people for peacefully exercising their human rights, and stop using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up their repression.”

Background 

Five people, including an Amnesty International staff member, have been summoned by the authorities to appear at a Bangkok police station today at 1pm and pay a fine.  

The penalty was issued under the Road Traffic Act and the Act on the Maintenance of Cleanliness and Order as an administrative fine in response to their involvement at an in-person panel discussion on 4 July focusing on the enforced disappearances of Thai activists, including reportedly abducted Thai activist Wanchelearm Satsaksit. 

The other four individuals are a panel moderator and three other panelist speakers: a protestor, an 18-year-old student, and a lawyer who was friends with an individual who was forcibly disappeared.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit is a Thai activist who was forcibly disappeared from Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020. His enforced disappearance corresponds to a deeply alarming pattern of abductions and killings since June 2016 of at least nine Thai activists in exile by unknown persons in neighbouring countries, namely Laos and Viet Nam. 

The decision to fine an Amnesty International staff member along with four other human rights activists arrives amid ongoing efforts by the Thai authorities to silence criticism and repress freedom of expression.

On 29 July 2021, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha introduced a ban on the distribution of "fake news", which includes anyone sharing reports online that spur public unrest or fear, harm national security, or shed doubt on the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis, even if the information shared is factually accurate and in the interest of public health. 

In April 2020, the Thai authorities proposed a draft law to regulate non-profit groups as part of efforts to pass repressive legislation that further muzzle civil society groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the latest iteration, the bill would give the government the power to arbitrarily ban groups, invade organizations’ privacy and infringe on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In response to the tens of thousands of Thais taking to the streets to demand democratic reforms throughout 2020 and into 2021 in Bangkok, the capital, and in provinces across Thailand, police have used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse peaceful protesters and arrested hundreds of demonstrators.  

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, from July 2020 to June 2021, at least 695 individuals (44 of them children) have faced criminal charges – including sedition, royal defamation, computer-related crime, violation of the Public Assembly – in 374 lawsuits for joining peaceful protests.

Furthermore, according to regulation no. 27, which came into force on 12 July under an Emergency Decree, violators of Thailand’s Covid-19 prevention protocols could face a maximum jail term of two years or a fine of up to 40,000 baht.  

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly with the consensus of Thailand and all other States, guarantees the rights of individuals to form, join and participate in civil society organizations, associations or groups to promote or defend human rights.   

The Thai authorities must respect this accord. Issuing fines in response to rights workers and activists peacefully taking part in a panel discussion clearly violates the right to freedom of expression. 

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