BANGKOK (22 January 2016) – The United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) urges the Thai military to drop all charges against 11 student activists arrested for violating a ban on political gatherings.
Sirawit Seritiwat, a student activist with the New Democracy Movement, said he was apprehended by uniformed men near Thammasat University campus in the capital Bangkok late on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, Chonticha Jaeng-rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap and Korakoch Saengyenpan visited Sirawit at the police station where he was being held, and were themselves charged with the same offence.
The four students appeared in a military court on Thursday, and were released pending a later hearing. The military court dismissed a request to remand the four activists.
The students were wanted for violating the military government’s ban on political assembly by boarding a train on 7 December 2015 bound for a park built by the army in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Their visit was intended to highlight alleged corruption in the construction of Rajabhakti Park. Authorities boarded the train, and prevented the activists from proceeding to the park.
Seven other students have been charged over the same incident.
“The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and opinion are fundamental rights and should never be regarded as a serious criminal offence,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting OHCHR regional representative. “We urge the authorities to drop all charges against the students.”
The students have been charged with violating an Order published by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) which bans political gathering of more than five persons. The Order carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
The UN Human Rights Office is concerned by the use of the NCPO Order instead of a law under the Public Assembly Act of 2015, meaning the case will be heard by a military court which raises the risk of an unfair trial and leaves defendants with no right to appeal.
OHCHR is also concerned that soldiers allegedly placed a hood over Sirawit’s head when he was arrested, and that he was slapped and kicked while in custody. The apprehending soldiers allegedly failed to identify themselves, gave no reason for his detention and did not advise Sirawit where he was being held.
OHCHR urges the Government to investigate the allegations of ill-treatment, and to allow the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand carry out an independent investigation into the incident.
“The authorities, including all security officials, not only have the duty to enforce the law, but also to ensure that they themselves abide by the law at all times,” said Meillan.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Thai Government is obliged to protect the civil liberties of all its citizens, including the rights to be protected against arbitrary detention, to be informed of any charges against them, to be given access to legal counsel, and to face an independent and impartial tribunal.