A Statement from the Human Rights Lawyers Association forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission
The intimidation, interference and impediment of the exercise of freedom of expression regarding the Draft Constitution must be brought to an end.
The law of the land, the Constitution, sets out the relations of the agencies exercising state powers among themselves and with the people. As a rule that affects all people, it is important that the drafting of the rule must be based on active and extensive participation of the public. And people must be thereby allowed to express themselves freely, whether or not to accept such rule.
Nevertheless, since the drafting of the Constitution has begun, public participation has been restricted. The drafting process has been an undertaking of a handful of individuals while the majority of the people have been denied the chance to participate and inform the content of the Draft Constitution. As a result, its current draft has elicited questions on various issues including the right to education, community rights, consumer rights, the recruitment of the Prime Minister, MPs, Senators, the powers of independent organizations, the Constitutional clauses that legitimize any acts and exercise of power by the NCPO, etc.
Even though the powers that be have agreed to have the Draft Constitution undergone a referendum, the climate of public participation and the exercise of the right to freedom of expression regarding the Draft Constitution has been severely restricted. The restriction is particularly imposed against the expression of critical views or opposition to the Draft Constitution. The powers that be have come out consistently to stifle any dissent by discouraging people from wearing ‘Vote No’ shirts, or even threatening to take legal action against any person involved with the No Vote campaign. It is brazenly clear from the Constitution Referendum Act passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on 7 April 2016 which imposes very high penalty rate for any flouting of the referendum rule. The enforcement of such law amidst the threat to exercise draconian power will likely induce the impression that the powers that be are waging their power arbitrarily to restrict the freedom of expression of the people.
The deprivation of liberty against Mr. Wattana Muangsuk since 18 April 2016 by the military after he had voiced out his opposition to the Draft Constitution is the latest attempt to restrict and stifle the freedom of expression. Apart from infringing on the freedom of expression, such an act is tantamount to an arbitrary detention without necessity and not in compliance with the due process of law. Even though the authorities claimed to have perform their duties as per the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558, citing the flouting of the NCPO Announcement no. 39/2557, it has to be noted that such an Order and Announcement have not been based on the rule of law. The laws have been enacted arbitrarily without decent reasons and not in compliance with the necessity and proportionality. Such an Order or Announcement should not be recognized as a law. Therefore, the detention of a person invoking the NCPO Order or Announcement is a breach to human rights principle as provided for in Section 4 the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim) B.E.2557 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)’s Article 9.
The undersigned human rights organizations affirm that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by Section 4 the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim) B.E.2557 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)’s Article 19 which stipulates that everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers since such condition is indispensable for the realization of the promotion of humanity and the freedom is a major mechanism to encourage an exchange of opinions useful for social development and transparency and accountability. Most importantly, such principle shall bring about the protection of people’s rights and freedom.
The undersigned human rights organizations urge that the NCPO:
1. Release Mr. Wattana Muangsuk immediately and unconditionally since what he had done was simply an exercise of the right to freedom of expression of opinions and belief peacefully as prescribed by the international obligations. His deprivation of liberty by the state officials is therefore an act of unlawful and arbitrary detention. And by confining him in an undisclosed detention facility, it shall increase the risk of being subject to grave human rights abuse. The exercise of such power is a serious breach to the ICCPR, which Thailand is obliged to follow.
2. The state must respect and protect the right to freedom of expression of opinions and belief peacefully and fully promote public participation in the drafting of the Constitution. It should ensure extensive debate of the pros and cons of the Draft Constitution and encourage campaigns by both the yes and no camps. This shall ensure the right to self-determination of the people in the referendum process.
3. The state must stop intimidating, persecuting, interfering and stifling the exercise of the right to freedom of expression of all groups of people and all opinions. The enforcement of laws and justice process arbitrarily made possible by brute force in order to restrict the freedom of expression and participation of the dissenters must be brought to an end.
With respect in human rights principle
Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
Community Resource Center (CRC)
EnLAW Foundation (Enlaw)
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
The views shared in this statement do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.