THAILAND: Criminalization of freedom of expression of student activist and human rights defender by junta

The Asian Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned to have learned that Patiwat (last name withheld), a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University and a human rights defender, is facing a criminal investigation in relation to a complaint under Article 112 of the Criminal Code in Thailand. The complaint against Patiwat is in relation to his role in a play, “The Wolf Bride,” (Jao Sao Ma Pa), performed by Prakai Fai Kan Lakorn, a progressive theatre troupe.  The play was performed in October 2013 at Thammasat University in Bangkok as part of the fortieth-anniversary commemorations of the 14 October 1973 student and people’s movement and uprising. Patiwat acknowledges having performed in the play but has fully denied that it violated Article 112. At this time, Patiwat was arrested after a warrant was issued and the police investigation is ongoing. The AHRC views the actions against Patiwat as an indication of the ongoing crisis of human rights and constriction of freedom of expression that have characterized Thailand since the 22 May coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The investigation of Patiwat is part of an expansion following the coup in the number of people facing charges with alleged violations of Article 112, which stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” According to information collected by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), there are twelve new cases pending in various criminal courts around the country and in the Bangkok military court. The cases which are pending in the military court are those in which the alleged violations took place following NCPO Announcement No. 37/2557 [2014], made on 25 May, which placed crimes against the crown and state into the jurisdiction of the military court; the AHRC detailed the dangers of processing civilians in military courts in an open letter to UN special procedures mandate holders (AHRC-OLT-006-2014). The AHRC views this upsurge in charges under Article 112 as a politicized and ominous constriction of freedom of expression by the military junta. The particular way in which action has been taken against Patiwat only now, ten months after the performance of the play in question, suggests that the past is an open book of acts which can be criminalized in retrospect by the junta and their allies.

In addition, the AHRC is also concerned about the manner in which Patiwat was arrested. According to information released in a statement by the Thai Student Center for Democracy, the dean of the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, where he is a student, was informed on 13 August that Patiwat had been ordered to report to a provincial military base for “attitude adjustment.” Patiwat, the dean and other staff members of the Faculty of Fine Arts complied with this request.  But then when they met with the responsible soldier, rather than taking Patiwat to the military base, he was informed that he was being arrested in relation to alleged violations of Article 112 and was taken first to the local police station in Khon Kaen, and then the Chana Songkram police station in Bangkok where the complaint against him originated.

The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to express grave concern about the rapid decline of human rights protections and denial of freedom of expression it has engendered. The AHRC calls for Patiwat’s immediate release and for the investigation against him and others facing prosecution under Article 112 to be dropped. Further, the AHRC calls on the NCPO to recognize that tolerance for different ideas and dissent are part of building a polity grounded in human rights and the rule of law. To defend human rights and think differently than the junta are not crimes.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-157-2014
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Impunity, Military,