THAILAND: Threats to academic reflect continuous decline in enjoyment of fundamental rights, emboldened military 

At a press conference in Thailand on 24 April 2011, Somsak Jeamteerasakul and several coalitions of academics, human rights activists, and journalists released statements calling for the protection of freedom of speech in Thailand. These statements were in response to a series of blatant threats made towards Somsak over comments that some people have considered amounted to criticism of the royalty. Somsak’s statement at this event is available on the independent news website, Prachatai:

Among the threats, the most alarming is that from the current commander of the army, General Chan-ocha, who directly criticized and derided Somsak in an interview on April 7, describing him as “a mentally ill academic” who “is intent on overthrowing the institution” of the monarchy. In the current highly polarized political situation in Thailand, where ultra-conservative forces are using the symbolic power of the king and royal institutions to advance a new authoritarian project, these statements from the head of the army are not only inappropriate but also are extraordinarily dangerous.

While the police have not yet charged Somsak with any offence, according to various sources, some kind of investigation is underway against him. At the same time, he has been threatened extralegally. Unknown men have come on motorcycles to nearby his house, and he has been receiving harassing telephone calls, which in Thailand constitute early warning signals of impending violence if the target does not stop whatever he or she is doing.

In one of the statements released on April 24, the Santiprachatham Network wrote:

“We urge all parties involved to stop threatening the academic freedom of Somsak and other individuals who hold differing political views. Please be aware that the expression of differing views is not a problem. Instead, widespread violations of the rights and freedoms of the people which have occurred since the 2006 coup is the root cause of the crisis which Thai society now faces.” (Full statement on Prachatai:

The Asian Human Rights Commission endorses this statement, which reflects a position that it took on the 2006 coup from the day of the coup itself. It adds that it is especially concerned at the growing use of legal and extralegal measures in purported defence of the monarchy as a means to further deny fundamental rights in Thailand. These include, most recently, reports that the Crime Suppression Division of the national police force has identified the names of 54 people who posted comments on a website that has been targeted in the past for alleged anti-monarchical contents, Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky), and whom the CSD may put forward for prosecution under the lese majesty provisions of article 112 in the Criminal Code.

The AHRC also has been following closely reports that in recent days, army personnel and staff of the Department of Special Investigation have raided anti-government community radio stations across the country in what is apparently a new coordinated effort to stamp out critical media aligned with, or part of, the “red shirt” movement. It would appear from these reports that the DSI, which was set up under the justice ministry with the intention that it would investigate crimes requiring specialized expertise of a non-police, non-military agency, has now been reduced to nothing more than another appendage of the new internal security state, and instead of investigating crime is instead hunting down political dissidents.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time been warning the international human rights community that Thailand has been steadily regressing towards a new type of anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in which the values associated with these concepts are advertised widely at home and abroad but in which state institutions are not only emptied of those values, but in fact are inverted to serve precisely the opposite ends from what they purport to serve. It is by now clear that the project towards this anti-human rights and anti-rule of law system in Thailand is well underway.

The AHRC therefore calls on all concerned parties, in particular the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, to investigate reports of these recent cases and to intervene, first for the safety of the persons threatened, especially Somsak Jeamteerasakul; and second, for the sake of the people of Thailand as a whole. If the creeping entrenchment of military-backed authoritarian forces in Thailand is not soon addressed, then it will add many years to the amount of time that it will already take for the country to dig itself out of the hole into which the 2006 coup put it.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-056-2011
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders,