[Statement] Thailand: Release pro-democracy activist Arnon Nampa, uphold people’s right to free speech and peaceful assembly
28 September 2023 1:10 pm
(Bangkok, 28 September 2023) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) condemns the conviction of Arnon Nampa, a prominent Thai human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist. He is sentenced to four years in prison without parole for violating Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code or lèse-majesté law.
FORUM-ASIA is in solidarity with Arnon and all pro-democracy activists in Thailand. We urge the Thai authorities to refrain from further deteriorating civic space in the country.
Arnon’s conviction highlights a worrying escalation of crackdowns against peaceful pro-democracy protests.
Stifling free speech
The Criminal Court’s latest ruling is based on Arnon’s speech during a rally calling for democratic reforms on 14 October 2020. It is just one of the 14 lèse-majesté charges faced by Arnon, each punishable by three to 15 years in prison.
During Thailand’s pro-democracy protests from 2020 to 2021, Arnon became one of the leading figures as he unveiled issues surrounding the monarchy. He was among the first to call for constitutional monarchy reform and repeal of the lèse-majestè law, which punishes anyone who ‘defames, insults, or threatens’ the Thai monarchy.
Between 2020 to 2022, Arnon has spent over 200 days in jail under royal defamation charges. He was subjected to repressive bail conditions including a ban from engaging in political activities and leaving the country, which required him to wear an ankle monitoring device.
New Regime, Same Tactics
Arnon’s case is not unique.
In July, the progressive Move Forward Party was blocked by the military-appointed senate despite securing a majority win in the general elections. The Move Forward Party had adopted major reforms as part of its campaign including an amendment to the lèse-majesté law, which resonates with the Thai youth protest movement’s calls for reforms.
The judicial harassment faced by the likes of Arnon, the Move Forward Party, and pro-democracy defenders underscores the regime’s opposition to establishing democracy in Thailand.
As of 31 August 2023, at least 1,925 individuals have been prosecuted due to their political participation and expression in Thailand, according to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. At least 257 were charged under the lèse-majesté law. Among those currently detained is youth activist Sophon ’Get’ Surariddhidhamrong, who was sentenced to over three years in prison for referring to the Queen using a loudspeaker during a political gathering.
As a State Party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand should respect people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The Thai Government should recognise that public officials–particularly those holding high positions of authority–can be legitimately subjected to political opposition. The government should not suppress dissenting voices. Likewise, it should not enforce legislation aimed at protecting public figures from such criticisms.
Call to Action
FORUM ASIA urges the Thai Government to reverse the conviction against Arnon and to quash outstanding charges. We call for the immediate release of Arnon and all other Thai pro-democracy defenders. In addition, we support the call to repeal the lèse-majesté law since its substance and implementation contradict international human rights standards.
Criminalisation against those exercising fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly should have never occurred in the first place. A thriving civic space cannot coexist with laws designed to unfairly protect public figures and repress political dissent. We urge the Government of Thailand to uphold its international obligations to safeguard people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org
For further information, please contact:
- East Asia – ASEAN Programme, FORUM-ASIA, [email protected]
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- Communication and Media Programme, FORUM-ASIA, [email protected]