Friday, January 30, 2015

Human rights in Thailand in 'free fall'

HUMAN rights in Thailand are in "free fall" with the government of General Prayut Chan-o-cha severely repressing fundamental rights and freedoms since the coup last May, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual World Report 2015.

"Military rule has sent human rights in Thailand into a free fall, with no sign that the promised democratic transition will happen any time soon," Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said. "The junta is using draconian martial law powers to prosecute dissenters, ban political activity, and censor the media."

Unlike previous years, the report for the first time was not released at a press conference in Bangkok.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thai researcher at HRW, told The Nation the decision not to hold a press conference detailing the human rights situation in Thailand was due to the current environment under martial law.

"If we want to hold a press conference we must ask for permission from the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] first. We don't want to set a precedent," Sunai said.

"In the end they wouldn't give a permit, anyhow, and it would be tantamount to recognising their authority."

Sunai said the report was available on the Internet, with a Thai-language version available late yesterday.

He said the fact that a media report organised by the Thai Journalists Association in conjunction with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation had had its scheduled release yesterday cancelled indefinitely by the NCPO was further proof of the restrictions now in place.

The HRW report criticised Prayut and the NCPO for functioning without accountability and enjoying impunity for "abusive acts".

"The junta has largely banned political activity, has carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and has disregarded serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees," it said.

It also cited the NCPO's order to the media, social media and general public not criticise the junta as another example of rights being repressed.

"The NCPO ordered the print media not to publicise commentaries critical of the military. TV and radio programmes were instructed not to invite guests who might comment negatively on the situation in Thailand," the report stated.

"The junta has blocked more than 200 websites - including the Thailand page on the Human Rights Watch website - as threats to national security."

The report said there had been 14 new cases of lese majeste under the NCPO, adding that many of those charged were routinely denied bail and often jailed for many months while awaiting trial in the military court.

It also said the military and police had operated with impunity in the deep South.

"To date, not a single member of the security forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces. Separatists insurgents point to government abuses to recruit new members and justify their campaign of terror targeting officials and civilians, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives over the past 10 years."

The Thai authorities had also imposed tighter restrictions on all refugee camps near the Myanmar border and intensified scrutiny of unregistered camp residents. These unregistered residents make up about 40 per cent of camp populations which "successive Thai governments have effectively blocked from being considered for refugee status, sparking fears in the camp of possible mass expulsions".


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