Front Line Defenders calls on Thai authorities to drop all charges against activists

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26 January 2016

Charging and ill-treatment of student human rights defenders

Arrest warrants against student human rights defenders Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Korakot Saengyenpan and Abhisit Sapnaphapan were issued on 13 January 2016 by the Bangkok Military Court. The human rights defenders were accused of having held a political gathering of more than five persons on 7 December 2015, without official authorization. They were arrested on 20 and 21 January 2016, and released on 21 and 22 January 2016. They now await the decision of the military prosecutor on whether to indict them. Sirawit Seritiway was subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.

Sirawit Seritiwat is a student human rights defender from Thammasat University and a pro-democracy activist involved in the New Democracy Movement. His fellow student human rights defenders Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Abhisit Sapnaphapan and Korakot Saengyenpan are also active members of the movement, which was formed in June 2015 with the aim of using peaceful means to fight for the establishment of democracy in Thailand.

The human rights defenders were released on 21 and 22 January 2016, after the Military Court of Bangkok rejected police requests for them to be remanded in custody while awaiting the decision of the military prosecutor to indict them on charges of violating the national ban on political assembly. All five are facing charges of violating Order No. 3/2015 of the National Council for Peace and Order, which imposes a ban on the holding of political gatherings of five persons or more without prior official authorization. If indicted, they will face trial before a military court, and could face up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 10,000 Baht (approximately €250).

Sirawit Seritiwat was the first of the five individuals to be detained. On 20 January 2016, he was arrested by eight military officers at the Rangsit Campus of Thammasat University in Bangkok. He was then blindfolded, forced into a pick-up truck and taken to an unknown location, where he was subjected to ill-treatment including repeated hits to his head and back, as well as verbal abuse. He was subsequently taken to Nimit Mai Police Station, then transferred to Thonburi Police Station.

The charges against Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Korakot Saengyenpan and Abhisit Sapnaphapan follow arrest warrants issued against them on 13 January 2016 by the Bangkok Military Court. The human rights defenders were accused of having held a political gathering of more than five persons on 7 December 2015, without official authorization. The accusations related to their attempts to participate in a peaceful demonstration on 7 December 2015, to demand the opening of an investigation into alleged corruption in the construction of Rajabhakti Park by the Thai military. On their way to the park, the five human rights defenders were stopped by police at Baan Pong train station and arrested along with 20 other activists. All those arrested were subsequently released, after a large number agreed to sign pledges vowing they would not join any political movement in the future, and that they would not leave the country without the authorities’ prior permission. Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Korakot Saengyenpan and Abhisit Sapnaphapan refused to sign the pledges.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the charging of student human rights defenders Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Abhisit Sapnaphapan and Korako Saengyenpan, as well as the ill-treatment to which Sirawit Seritiwat was subjected while detained, as it believes the acts against them to be directly linked to their peaceful and legitimate work in the protection of human rights in Thailand.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Thailand to:

1. Immediately drop all charges against Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Abhisit Sapnaphapan and Korakot Saengyenpan, as Front Line believes that they are solely motivated by their legitimate work in defence of human rights;

2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment of Sirawit Seritiwat, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

3. Cease any further judicial harassment of Sirawit Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaeung-Rew, Chanoknan Ruamsap, Abhisit Sapnaphapan and Korakot Saengyenpan;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

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