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Thailand: Diverse Voices on the Referendum Must be Respected

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The upcoming referendum on the draft constitution in Thailand has met with voices of dissent from human rights defenders, which have promptly been suppressed by government and security officials. In a press statement, FORUM-ASIA urges the Thai military government to ensure that all citizens are able to enjoy their right to free speech.

(Bangkok) FORUM-ASIA is deeply concerned with the reports of harassment conducted by security and law enforcement officers against activists voicing their dissatisfaction and critiques against the content of the draft constitution, which is to be voted by Thai citizens this coming Sunday 19 August 2007. We urge the Thai military government and its officers to respect the basic rights of the people, in any democratic society, to voice their opinions on the referendum.

FORUM-ASIA has received reliable information of trends where human rights defenders (HRDs) voicing their criticisms on the draft constitution have been harassed by law enforcement officers, especially in the provinces where martial law is still imposed. On 5 August 2007, in the northern province of Chiang Mai, HRDs who had gathered in front of the Central Airport Malls campaigning for the rejection of the draft constitution were repeatedly harassed. Mr. Phetchawat Wattanapongsiri, a member of the Northern Group for Democracy, gave an interview in the local Prachatai media that the military officers confiscated shirts, CDs and posters campaigning for the rejection of the draft constitution.1

In Chiang Rai province, where Martial Law is still imposed, HRDs campaigning for the rejection of the constitutions were called to the military camp and were threatened by citing Martial Law, claiming that the actions of activists could be in danger to national security and activists could face arrests.2

FORUM-ASIA urges the Thai military government to respect its international obligations by respecting the rights of those voicing their criticisms to express their opinions freely and without hindrance. Thailand, which had run for the 2006 UN Human Rights Council Election, has ratified the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stressed “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought” and “the right to hold opinions without interference…and…shall have the right to freedom of expression” in articles 18 and 19 respectively. Under international human rights law and irrespective of political belief and views, peoples’ basic freedoms should never be politicised or violated under any situation.

General Surayud Chulanont’s commitment to “promot[e] human rights”, especially the initiative for the ASEAN human rights mechanism as stated on 1 March 2007 in Bangkok, will simply be just an assurance, if the government cannot respect the basic rights of its citizens to practice the freedom of thought.3

Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA, +662 391 8801 (ext. 502),
Mr. Pokpong Lawansiri, Thailand Focal Point, FORUM-ASIA, +6686 603 8844

1 “Rejecting Red” in Siam! Campaign for the rejection of Draft Constitution, Prachathai News Network, 5 August 2007.
2  Interviewed with a member of Chiang Rai Group for Democracy, 16 August 2007.
3 Human Rights Herald: a Bi-Annual Publication of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, July 2007.