AI: Rights abuses ′creating climate of fear′ in Thailand | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 11.09.2014

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AI: Rights abuses 'creating climate of fear' in Thailand

Amnesty International has accused the Thai junta of grave human rights violations since the May 22 coup. The rights group's Rupert Abbott says in a DW interview people are unwilling to speak out in fear of repercussions.

Some 100 days after the military coup in Thailand, rights activists have renewed calls for an end to Martial Law in the Southeast Asian nation and accused Army Chief and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha of overseeing a judicial "twilight zone." The ruling junta has banned political gatherings in the country and introduced laws to detain critics of the military government's for up to seven days without charge.

Human rights organizations claim that the regime has detained hundreds of people since the military overthrew the democratically elected government of former Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's following months of political turmoil. Dozens of "dissidents" are now facing legal action, mostly in military courts.

In a September 11 report titled Attitude adjustment - 100 days under Martial Law, Amnesty International (AI) accuses Thailand's military government of engaging in systemic arbitrary arrests and detentions of hundreds of people, restricting freedom of expression and assembly, pursuing lèse majesté charges on an unprecedented scale to target critics, and cracking down on independent media.

Rupert Abbott, AI's Deputy Asia Pacific Director and co-author of the report, says in a DW interview that these rights violations are creating a climate of fear across the country. He adds that while the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has reacted to international pressure, it has not gone far enough to uphold its human rights obligations.

DW: How would you describe the current human rights situation in Thailand?

Rupert Abbott: Three months since the coup, a picture emerges of ongoing widespread and far-reaching human rights violations perpetrated by the military government. Our report shows that rights abuses are continuing and creating a climate of fear across the country - people are afraid to speak out, since they know about the consequences of doing so.

Rupert Abbott

Abbott: 'The NCPO has not gone far enough to uphold its human rights obligations'

Has the NCPO introduced any measures that have weakened human rights protections?

The NCPO has introduced a wide range of measures that have removed human rights protections. Hundreds of arbitrary detentions, reports of torture and other ill-treatment, sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and unfair trials in military courts are contributing to a disturbing pattern of repression.

The NCPO, however, denies most of these allegations. Do you have any evidence to back these claims?

A lot of the evidence is found in the form of laws and orders introduced by the military. As spelled out in the report, many of them violate international human rights law, for example giving the NCPO impunity from prosecution, or introducing restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We are also basing our report on our in-depth research, including testimony gathered in interviews with dozens of individuals whose rights have been violated, which paint a disturbing picture of just how far the repression of dissent has gone.

How has the regime dealt with would-be dissidents thus far?

In the first few weeks after the military takeover, hundreds of individuals were called in to report to the military and were held for varying periods of time, often incommunicado. Authorities refused to characterize the process as detention, instead referring to it as a "cooling off period" or "attitude adjustment."

These people were arbitrarily detained without charge or access to lawyers. They were later forced to sign undertakings promising not to engage in political activities and had their movements restricted as a precondition for release. Their behavior has been monitored after release, and one political commentator was rearrested and detained for days as a form of punishment. We believe that authorities have been abusing their powers of detention and prosecution to enforce cooperation.

Many of those who refused to report to the military are now facing trials in military courts - where there is no right to appeal - and possible prison sentences, and a number have had their passports revoked. Authorities have continued to place pressure not only on individuals it has ordered to report, but also their families. This included detaining of their family members, or threatening their safety.

Has the NCPO reacted to international pressure and repealed some of these controversial measures?

The NCPO has reacted to international pressure, but has not gone far enough to uphold its human rights obligations. After the EU expressed strong concern about ongoing detentions, the NCPO in late June 2014 publicly stated that it was ending detention in "special circumstances" in Thailand, and that everyone had been released.

In many areas, everything points to no let-up in the repression. The prosecution of persons for peaceful acts of dissent and restrictions on human rights are becoming more entrenched. As the UN Human Rights Council sits this week in Geneva, the international community should take the opportunity to demand that Thailand's military government change its course immediately to ensure respect for human rights. Other governments should also provide support to human rights defenders in Thailand, who are currently facing harassment and prosecution.

What do you urge the Thai government to do?

Amnesty International is calling on the NCPO to restore the human rights provisions in the now suspended 2007 Constitution. It should repeal the law and end the practice of arbitrary detentions, make public information on who it has detained under Martial Law, and restore safeguards during detention.

The NCPO should also lift sweeping orders that restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, lift all charges against individuals brought solely for peacefully exercising those rights, and release immediately and unconditionally those detained or imprisoned under such charges.

Thailand Militärputsch

Three months since the coup, a picture emerges of ongoing widespread and far-reaching human rights violations, says Abbott

Civilians must be tried in civilian courts in fair proceedings. It is equally crucial that all human rights abuses documented in our report, including torture and other ill-treatment, are investigated, and that those responsible are brought to justice.

How do you expect the human rights situation to develop in the coming months?

Thailand is at an important crossroads. The military has signaled its intention to see through the second and third phases of its "roadmap" to democracy, which envisages a fresh election in late 2015 at the earliest. The Thai authorities should end the disturbing pattern of repression, end human rights violations, respect Thailand's international human rights obligations and allow open debate and discussion - all of which are vital to the country's future.

Rupert Abbott is Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director.

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