Protest in front of UN headquarters calls for release of detained activists

From 9.00 – 17.00 for the past three days, activists and members of the public stood in front of the UN headquarters in Bangkok to protest against the denial of bail for detained activists and to demand that UN agencies pay attention to the Thai authorities’ violation of civil and political rights.

Protesters standing in front of the UN headquarters in Bangkok

“We came in front of the UN this time because we can no longer rely on the Thai judicial process,” said Chiang Mai-based writer and translator Pakavadi Weerapaspong, who was among the activists participating in the protest.

Since the Thai judicial process is no longer reliable, she said, they now have to go to international agreements to which Thailand is a state party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and the right to a fair trial.

Pakavadi said that while she understands that bail is not always guaranteed, there needs to be logic and principles to decisions on whether to grant someone bail or not. If the defendant is not trying to flee or tamper with evidence and if the court has not reached a verdict, she believes they should be granted bail.

“It should not be that, when it comes to people who are political dissidents, they are imprisoned and punished in advance. This is not right,” Pakavadi said. “And if they are granted bail, they are bailed out with more conditions than usual, such as having to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. Some people are also forced to stay home.”

Pakavadi Weerapaspong holding a sign saying "Let's oppose the cruel state"

Activist Thanapat Kapeng from the activist group Thalufah was also among the participants. He said that he was aware that Thailand is a state party to the ICCPR, but the agreement has never been enforced in Thailand, and that he thinks joining the protest is something that a common person could do to show the authorities what they want.

Thanapat, who was previously detained pending trial on charges relating to a protest on 2 August 2021 and was granted bail on the condition that he must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, said that the conditions in Thailand make one feels that just getting out of prison is being released, but those who are granted bail deserve to live a normal life and should not even be wearing a monitoring bracelet.

“People who are in prison are fighters,” Thanapat said. “I don’t know how much I can ask from people who are listening, but if I can ask them one thing, I want to say that there are people in prison right now, and that three people are on a hunger strike. Their hearts can stop at any time. In the end, if the people don’t come out … to put pressure [on the authorities], someone will definitely die in prison.”

Protesters gathering in front of the UN headquarters this afternoon (13 July), on the last day of the three-day protest.

The event resumed on 12 July from 9.00 – 17.00 and the following day (13 July) at the same time. During the afternoon, representatives of the activists also submitted an open letter, signed by participants at the event, to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asking the international community to pressure the Thai authorities to grant bail for political prisoners. The letter was received by OHCHR officer David Murphy.

One of the representatives said that the OHCHR told them that they will continue to monitor Thailand’s justice system and will try to communicate to the Thai authorities their concerns regarding detained activists. The OHCHR also suggested that the activists contact other UN special procedures.

The OHCHR representative also told the activists that they have contacted the Department of Corrections requesting a visit to the detained activists, but have not received a reply. Pakavadi, who was one of the activists submitting the letter, noted that the Thai authorities often use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to prevent visitors from seeing detained activists, but if UN representatives could visit them, they might have a stronger response to the situation.

The activists said that apart from the OHCHR, they also submitted open letters to other Thai government agencies, such as the National Human Rights Commission and standing committees in parliament.

The activists said that they cannot rely solely on the UN to effect changes, but the public must join together to pressure the government to change and to follow its own constitution and the international conventions it has signed.

A protester stood in front of the UN holding a picture of detained monarchy reform activists Nutthanit and Netiporn.

23 people are currently detained on charges relating to political expression and have been repeatedly denied bail. Among this number, three people are on a hunger strike to protest the denial of bail. Thirawit, who is held in pre-trial detention on charges relating to a protest on 11 June at the Din Daeng Intersection, has been on a hunger strike for 25 days. He is severely fatigued and has to crawl on the floor because he has no energy to walk. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) also reported that Thirawit contracted Covid-19 while in prison and has been moved to the Medical Correctional Institution, where his lawyer has not been able to visit him since 27 June.

Meanwhile, monarchy reform activists Nutthanit and Netiporn, who are held in pre-trial detention on royal defamation charges, have been on a hunger strike for 40 days. They are severely fatigued and suffering from nausea and stomach ache. According to TLHR, Nutthanit has refused to receive medical treatment from the Medical Correctional Institution after she was harassed by a prison doctor. She told her lawyer that she cannot feel her hands and feet and is always nauseous. TLHR also reported that, during Nutthanit and Netiporn’s visit with their lawyer, Nutthanit had to put her head on the table because she was too tired.

Due to their deteriorating condition, lawyers and family members posted bail for Nutthanit and Netiporn again last week so that they can receive medical treatment from a civilian hospital. However, the request was denied after the South Bangkok Criminal Court ruled that the prison hospital is still capable of taking care of them.

Three other protesters detained on charges relating to the 11 June protest have also attempted suicide. Phalaphon, 20, attempted to overdose on paracetamol on 24 June. TLHR said that he has been admitted to the Medical Correctional Institution due to effects of the overdose, and that he said he tried to commit suicide to demand justice. Meanwhile, Phutipong and Baibun used the lid from a can of fish to cut themselves on the arms over 10 times from the wrist to elbow to protest their detention and denial of bail.

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