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Thailand: Activists’ Rights to Freedom of Expression and Assembly Need to be Protected

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Coming close to the 10 month anniversary of the 19 September 2006 coup, the Thai military government is tightening its grip on anti-coup activists. Despite being an illegitimate and unelected government, the regime needs to abide by international human rights obligations.
Coming close to the 10 month anniversary of the 19 September 2006 coup, the Thai military government is tightening its grip on anti-coup activists. Despite being an illegitimate and unelected government, the regime needs to abide by international human rights obligations.

As the 10th month of Thailand’s rule under the barrel of a gun approaches, the military government is once again tightening its grip on the anti-coup activists and dissidents of the government. In a recent case, a key anti-coup activist, Mr. Sombat Boonngam-anong was arrested by the military last Friday, 6 July 2007.

Mr. Sombat is the founder of the Mirror Group Foundation, a local non-governmental organisation working to end child trafficking and a key member of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD), an umbrella organisation of more than 15 anti-coup organisations. He has been active campaigning and organising rallies criticising the military government’s policy, especially its silencing of political dissidents.

Sombat was briefly arrested and detained for about 24 hours at the Mengrai Military Camp after he held a rally in the city of Chiang Rai, in the northern province of Thailand. The source said that about four to five military officers charged him while he was giving a speech criticising the regime on the hood of a truck for about twenty minutes. The military alleged he was creating “disruption and chaos to the society” in opposition to the 1944 Martial Law Act. Chiang Rai, along with 35 provinces of the country’s 76 provinces is still under martial law. Northern Thailand is the hub of pro-Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai support.

It is reported that Sombat was denied his request for drinking water during his detention and refused access to a lawyer. He was also threatened that under martial law his penalty could be the death sentence.1

On another occasion, the members of the Assembly of the Poor (AOP), the network of farmers and pro-poor activists, were harassed while they demonstrated outside the Government House, calling for the government to abide by its promise to open the gate of the Pak Moon Dam. The government recently ordered the closure of the Pak Moon Dam despite its promise to open it last year. The closure of the dam gate is affecting the livelihood of the people because of their dependency on the fish in the river. AOP has been harassed and targeted by the military, barring them to enter the capital to stage anti-government demonstrations.2

On the military government’s earlier promise to place “human rights and democracy” as the national agenda, the interim prime minister is showing reluctance and hesitation. General Surayud’s response to the arrest of Sombat claims he “has stood firm on the ban of political activities [and warned that] violators could face legal action”.3

Local human rights groups such as the Campaign for Popular Media Reforms (CPMR) issued a statement calling for the respect of the basic freedoms, freedom of expressions and assembly.iv

The government under Surayud Chulanont, although it is an unelected and illegitimate government, needs to bring into account the suggestions and comments from human rights groups and abide by the international obligations to which Thailand is a party. Thailand, being the state party to five international UN treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) needs to respect the freedom of expression and assembly as stated in article 18 and 19 respectively that every person shall have “the right to freedom of thought” and “the right to freedom of expression… [including] freedom to seek, receive and impart information”.

FORUM-ASIA calls on the Thai government to abide and practice responsibility under the international laws. The government’s acclamation for creating participatory democracy can never be fulfilled if the government continues to arrest and threaten individuals for expressing their opinions and concerns. 

1 “Surayud stands firm, warns political activity still illegal.” Bangkok Post, 9 July 2007 (Page 3).
2  “Cabinet dismiss Pak Moon case; villager shoved off government ground”, Prachatai News, 11 July 2007
3  “Military Release the Anti-Coup leader After Condemnation from Civic Group”, Prachatai News, 9 July 2007,