(New York, May 22, 2022) – Thai authorities should immediately drop charges and release pro-democracy activists detained for insulting the monarchy, Human Rights Watch said today. Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, who has been on hunger strike since April 20, 2022, to protest his pre-trial detention, is expected to be transferred to a hospital for urgent medical monitoring.
“Thai authorities should drop charges against Tantawan and others wrongfully accused for their peaceful protests demanding reform, or at least be immediately released on bail,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights. Watch. “Keeping activists in prolonged pre-trial detention for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and unfair.
Tantawan, 20, who is affiliated with the pro-democracy group Draconis Revolution, has advocated reforming the monarchy and abolishing Thailand’s draconian rule. lese majesty (insult to the monarchy). She has been charged with various criminal offences, including lese majesty under Section 112 of the Penal Code for conducting an opinion poll on royal processions on February 8 and posting a live broadcast on Facebook criticizing the monarchy on March 5. Since April 20, authorities have held her in pre-trial detention, which the Bangkok Criminal Court has repeatedly extended.
Other critics of the monarchy accused of lese majesty offenses related to the same opinion poll are Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom and Nutthanit “Bai Por” Duangmusit of Thalu Wang Group. Authorities arrested them both on May 3. Authorities also arrested Sophon “Get” Surariddhidhamrong, an activist from the Mok Luang Rim Nam group, on May 1 on lese majesty accused of giving a speech at a political rally on April 22 criticizing the monarchy. He was also remanded in custody.
Section 112 of the Penal Code of Thailand makes lese majesty punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The cases are just the latest in which Thai pro-democracy activists accused of lese majesty were detained for long periods that could last for years until the end of their trial, Human Rights Watch said.
Detain those accused of lese majesty in pre-trial detention violates their rights under international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified, encourages bail for suspects. Article 9 states that “the general rule is that persons awaiting trial should not be detained, but their release may be subject to guarantees of appearance in court”. Those whose charges have not been dropped should be tried without undue delay, Human Rights Watch said.
Number of lese majesty the number of cases in Thailand has risen dramatically over the past year, Human Rights Watch said. After a hiatus of almost three years during which lese majesty cases have not been taken to court, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha in November 2020 ordered the authorities to restore lese majesty lawsuits, ostensibly due to growing criticism of the monarchy. Since then, authorities have charged more than 200 people with lese majesty crimes related to various activities at pro-democracy rallies or comments on social media.
The ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression. General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, states that laws such as those lese majesty “should not provide for harsher penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person who may have been implicated” and that governments “should not prohibit criticism of institutions”.
“The Thai government should stop punishing peaceful dissent and show respect for human rights by allowing all views,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should engage with UN experts and others on amending the lese majesty law to bring it into conformity with the obligations of international human rights law”.