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Thailand Added To Human Rights Watchlist As Activists And Opposition Targeted

  • Activists and the opposition are being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for royal defamation
  • Women and LGBTQI+ activists unlawfully targeted with digital surveillance
  • There has been an upsurge in transnational repression directed at foreign activists seeking refugee protection in Thailand
  • Opposition Move Forward Party is at risk of being dissolved

The CIVICUS Monitor has added Thailand to its watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms, due to the targeting of activists, critics and the opposition by the government of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

In recent months, the government has continued to use royal defamation (lèse-majesté) provisions or Article 112 to arrest and convict activists, critics and politicians on charges of insulting the monarchy. Courts routinely deny bail to individuals charged or impose strict conditions in cases where bail is granted. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), since early 2020, more than 270 people have been charged with violating the law and at least 17 are being held in pre-trial detention.

Prominent human rights lawyer and democracy activist Arnon Nampa was sentenced to a further two years imprisonment in April 2024, while in May 2024, an opposition lawmaker and activist Chonthicha Jangrew of the Move Forward Party was sentenced to two years jail. Activist Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, who had been campaigning to repeal the lèse majesté provision, died in custody in May 2024, after suffering a cardiac arrest. No one has been held accountable for her death.

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Despite recently legalising same sex marriage, human rights groups have also raised concerns about women and LGBTQI+ activists being unlawfully targeted with digital surveillance, including Pegasus spyware and online harassment, by state and non-state actors, in an effort to silence them.

“Thai authorities must drop the cases of all those charged with lèse-majesté and release all those in pre-trial detention or have been convicted. Article 112 is inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations and must be amended immediately. The authorities must also launch an independent, thorough, and effective investigation into the use of the Pegasus spyware against activists that has created a chilling effect among activists,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about transnational repression in Thailand. Human rights groups have reported an upsurge in repression directed at foreign nationals seeking refugee protection in Thailand. Foreign governments have subjected exiled dissidents and activists to harassment, surveillance and physical violence, often with the cooperation and knowledge of Thai authorities. Most recently, Vietnamese activist Y Quynh Bdap was detained in Thailand on 11 June 2024 and is at risk of deportation, where he could be subjected to severe persecution.

“It is extremely worrying that a country that is seeking a place on the UN Human Rights Council is facilitating harassment, surveillance, and physical violence of activists from abroad seeking refuge in Thailand. The authorities must end such actions and instead create a safe haven for activists fleeing persecution from neighboring countries,” added Benedict

The opposition Move Forward Party – that won the highest number of seats in parliamentary elections in 2023 - is at risk of being dissolved by the Constitutional Court and its executives face a 10-year ban on political activity for their pledge to amend the royal defamation provisions. The petition to the courts was filed by the Election Commission.

Disbanding the Move Forward Party would violate the rights to freedom of association and undermine the progress made to restore democracy following the coup and military rule.

About the CIVICUS Monitor

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. Civic freedoms in 198 countries and territories are categorised as either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘narrowed’ or ‘open,’ based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Thailand is currently rated ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 50 countries in the world with this rating. This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights

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