THAILAND: Threats to political freedom intensify with assault on HRD and law professor 

On the afternoon of 29 February 2012, Professor Worachet Pakeerut, a law professor at Thammasat University, leader of the Khana Nitirat, and human rights defender (HRD), was assaulted by two men outside the Faculty of Law at Thammasat University.  The two men punched Professor Worachet several times in the face until he bled and his eyeglasses were broken. He was subsequently treated at Thonburi Hospital and released. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would like to urgently express concern over the physical assault of Professor. The AHRC calls on the relevant Thai state agencies to take immediate action to guarantee the safety of Professor Worachet, the additional members of the Khana Nitirat, and others who are at risk for their work defending political freedom.

In January 2012, the Khana Nitirat (which means “Law for the People” in Thai), a group of seven law lecturers at Thammasat University (Worachet Pakeerut, Jantajira Iammayura, Thapanan Nipithakul, Teera Suteewarangkurn, Sawatree Suksri, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and Poonthep Sirinupong) proposed an amendment to Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. Article 112 reads: “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The proposed amendment arose out of observation that in the five years since the 19 September 2006 coup, the use of Article 112 has risen exponentially, with hundreds of charges being investigated or already in the courts. The proposed amendment of the Khana Nitirat leaves the position of the monarchy within the Thai polity as it is currently, but aims to reduce the potential for abuse under Article 112 in several significant ways. The proposed amendment would make the punishment for alleged lèse majesté proportionate to the crime, limit who can file a complaint to the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary rather than any citizen, differentiate sincere and truthful criticism from threats to the monarchy, and categorize violations of Article 112 as about the honor of the monarchy, rather than national security.

The proposed amendment by the Khana Nitirat then became the basis for a nationwide campaign by the Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 (CCAA 112), a coalition of intellectuals, media activists, human rights activists. Under the 2007 Constitution, if at least 10,000 citizens sign in support of a proposed amendment, the Parliament is obliged to examine it. Beginning on 15 January 2012, CCAA 112 began to gather signatures. Both the Khana Nitirat and CCAA 112 have faced growing harassment and threats since January 2012. The assault on Professor Worachet Pakeerut marks the first instance of the use of physical violence.

In a statement submitted on 16 February 2012 to the nineteenth session of the UN Human Rights Council (ALRC-CWS-19-02-2012), the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), the sister organization of the Asian Human Rights Commission, expressed grave concern over the growing threats to political freedom in Thailand. In particular, the ALRC noted the growing backlash to the campaigns of the Khana Nitirat and the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 (CCAA 112). The ALRC cited the danger of the combination of statements asking the campaigners to halt their activities and vaguely threatening violence made by the commanders of the state security forces with growing vigilante rhetoric propagated by civil society actors.  In particular, the ALRC noted with concern the specific death threats made in the comments section of articles on Manager (Phuchadkan) newspaper online, including calls for the members of the Khana Nitirat to be beheaded and their heads placed on stakes outside the university gates and calls for them to be burned alive with their families outside the homes.

The AHRC would like to reiterate the ALRC’s comment that, “While vigorous debate from all points of view enhances democracy and the exercise of human rights, making death threats is outside the purview of vigorous debate.” In the context of the recent attack on Professor Worachet, the AHRC would further note that physical assault represents an ominous escalation of the dangers faced by the Khana Nitirat and others promoting critical discussion about the appropriate role and form of Article 112 in present-day Thailand.

The Asian Human Rights Commission would like to remind the Thai government that they are a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and are bound to uphold the human rights principles named therein. In particular, the AHRC would like to call on the Thai state to uphold Article 19 of the ICCPR, which guarantees the rights to political freedom and freedom of expression. In this case, part of upholding the ICCPR means protecting those whose views are dissident and ensuring that they can safely exercise their political freedom.

It is imperative that the Thai state’s protection of the rights guaranteed in Article 19 and the remainder of the ICCPR be active, rather than passive. The AHRC therefore calls on the Metropolitan police to conduct a full investigation into the attack on Professor Worachet Pakeerut and bring the men who assaulted him to justice. This will both serve to specifically protect Professor Worachet and the additional members of the Khana Nitirat, and will also signal to other vigilante actors that these kinds of attacks will not be tolerated in the Thai polity.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-040-2012
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Threats and intimidation,