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Human rights in Thailand
Amnesty International Report - May 2011
Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Background Political violence Freedom of expression Refugees and migrants Internal armed conflict Death penalty
Official censorship of websites, radio and television stations, and print publications was tightened as freedom of expression remained restricted. Violence continued in the internal armed conflict in southern Thailand, with security forces subjecting suspects to torture and other ill-treatment, and members of Muslim armed groups attacking civilians, particularly teachers. Anti-government protests in Bangkok and several other provinces were characterized by excessive use of force by security forces, violent acts by some protesters, and the detention of several hundred prisoners. An Emergency Decree containing many provisions that contravened international human rights law and standards was in effect in Bangkok for almost eight months. Migrant workers with irregular status in Thailand faced a range of human rights abuses and, along with refugees, were forcibly returned to Myanmar.
A political crisis polarized Thai society for a fifth consecutive year, spiking sharply after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in a 2006 coup and in self-imposed exile, was convicted in his absence by a court in Bangkok in late February on corruption charges. Mid-March through late May saw increasingly violent anti-government protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, partly affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra. More than 90 people were killed, at least 2,000 others were injured, and 37 buildings in Bangkok were burned down. The government invoked the Internal Security Act in March and the Emergency Decree in April; the latter remained in place in Bangkok and three other provinces until almost the end of the year. In the aftermath of the violence, the government established several bodies for national reform and a Truth for Reconciliation Commission.
The internal armed conflict in southern Thailand continued, reaching a death toll of 4,500 since 2004. In November, Thailand experienced its largest single influx of refugees in 25 years when at least 20,000 refugees fled fighting across the Myanmar border.
Between 10 April and 19 May, 74 protesters or passers-by, 11 members of the security forces, four medics and two journalists were killed during sometimes violent anti-government protests in Bangkok and elsewhere. The security forces used excessive force, including lethal use of firearms and "live fire zones", which killed several unarmed protesters and bystanders. Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a leader of the demonstrators' defences, was shot and killed by a sniper on 13 May. Some protesters and elements seemingly aligned with them were also armed and used lethal force against the security forces. The government detained over 450 people in the wake of the protests, approximately 180 of whom remained in detention or on bail pending trial at the end of the year. Some were charged with terrorism.
Freedom of expression
The government clamped down on freedom of expression, mainly through the Emergency Decree, the lèse majeste law, and the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act.
The Emergency Decree authorized the newly established Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) to censor websites, radio and television stations, and printed publications without a court warrant. During each of the last three weeks of May, as violence during anti-government protests peaked, the CRES announced that it had censored 770, 1,150 and 1,900 websites, respectively. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology announced in June that it had blocked access in Thailand to 43,908 websites on grounds that they violated the lèse majeste law and national security.
In October, Amornwan Charoenkij was arrested under the Emergency Decree in Ayutthaya province – despite the Decree not being in effect there – for selling slippers featuring the Prime Minister's face and a message referring to the 91 dead from the May violence.
At least five cases were brought under the Computer-related Crimes Act for content deemed offensive to the monarchy and/or a threat to national security, bringing the total to 15 since the Act was promulgated in 2007.
Refugees and migrants
On 29 April, businessman Wipas Raksakulthai was arrested for forwarding a message on the social networking site, Facebook, which allegedly violated the lèse majeste law. A prisoner of conscience, he was refused bail and at the end of the year remained in detention awaiting a trial date. On 24 September, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of online newspaper Prachatai, was arrested for comments posted on the website which violated the lèse majeste law. She was released on bail and at year's end was waiting for a referral to the public prosecutor.
Migrant workers who did not register their status before a 28 February deadline were forcibly removed to Myanmar, and were subject to trafficking and extortion by both Thai officials and a Myanmar government-backed ethnic minority militia. In November, Thailand violated the principle of non-refoulement by forcing many refugees fleeing from fighting in Myanmar to return there, placing them at risk of serious human rights abuses. A government process with the stated aim of verifying the immigration status of over 1.4 million registered migrant workers was marred by concerns for the safety of Myanmar nationals who had to return to Myanmar to take part; unregulated brokers charging extortionate fees; and insufficient provision of information to those meant to take part. The verification process excluded the roughly 1.4 million other migrant workers who did not register with the immigration authorities before the 28 February deadline.
Irrespective of their immigration status, many foreign nationals – mainly from Asia – continued to face discrimination in access to work, industrial accident compensation, and disability registration, and were subject to restrictions on their movements as well as dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. Alleged instances of extortion, torture and other violence against migrant workers by both employers and officials, including, in particular, law enforcement officers, were either not investigated or not prosecuted.
Following an influx of at least 20,000 refugees in early November, many returned to Myanmar voluntarily, but others were forced to return or were prevented from crossing the border into Thailand. This was also true throughout the rest of the year in relation to smaller groups of refugees escaping sporadic fighting across the border.
Internal armed conflict
In Waw Lay village in Phop Phra district in Tak province, Thai authorities forcibly returned 166 Burmese refugees on 25 December, at least 360 on 8 December, roughly 650 on 17 November, and approximately 2,500 on 10 November.
Human rights abuses by all sides continued in the internal armed conflict in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern provinces, where the Emergency Decree was renewed for the 21st time since July 2005 (it was lifted in one district in late December). The security forces continued to use torture on suspects, leading to several deaths in custody. Armed groups continued to target civilians, both Buddhist and Muslim, and to carry out indiscriminate attacks, particularly during the Ramadan period. Attacks on teachers and schools reached such a level in October that nearly all schools in the south closed for a week. On the sixth anniversary of the deaths of 85 people in Tak Bai, Narathiwat province, and after a 2009 decision not to prosecute the security forces involved, 14 co-ordinated bomb attacks took place, killing two people and injuring 74 others.
The government passed legislation to empower the civilian-led Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre to operate independently of the military and report directly to the Prime Minister, but impunity continued for the security forces.
In August, the police dropped all charges against a former paramilitary ranger alleged to have been involved in a 2009 attack on the Al-Furqan mosque in which 10 Muslims were killed. For the seventh consecutive year, no official was successfully prosecuted for human rights violations in the south.
There were no known executions. As of August, there were 708 people facing the death penalty whose cases were on appeal or final, 339 of them for drug offences. On 13 January, the Minister of Interior announced a campaign to extend the death penalty for drug offences under three existing laws. These developments contradicted Thailand's Second National Human Rights Plan for 2009 to 2013 which included the intention to abolish the death penalty.
In both April and May, following outbreaks of violence between anti-government protesters and security forces, the government stated that some detainees would be charged with terrorism, which could result in the death penalty.
Death row prisoners continued to be shackled in leg irons upon arrival in prison despite a 2009 court decision (since appealed) declaring it "illegal". The Truth for Reconciliation Commission recommended in July that the practice be stopped immediately.
In December, Thailand abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions, having voted against the resolution in 2007-2009.