By WASAMON AUDJARINT,
The letters were publicised on a day when 45 pro-election Thai protesters were spared from detention after facing several charges stemming from their involvement in a demonstration on May 22 demanding elections this year. The three letters, sent between December last year and February, dwelt on concerns about harassment of peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests, the detention of a refugee and criminalising freedom of expression.
The latest letter, sent on February 20, expressed concern about persecution of those taking part in peaceful assemblies against the government – from the “We Walk for Friendship” march to the pro-election assembly in January – the first in a series trying to remind the junta of its earlier promise to hold elections this year.
“We remain seriously concerned at the use of the [National Council for Peace and Order] orders to crack down on protests and criminalise the expression of dissenting opinions in Thailand on matters of high public and political interest, where opinions should be freely expressed and debated,” reads the letter.
In another letter issued in December 2017, the UNHRC expressed “grave concern at the continued use of Article 112 of the Criminal Code and of the Computer Crime Act against the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Thailand”.
“We reiterate that all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority ... are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition,” the letter went on, as it cited details of over 20 cases of concerns, including that against Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, who was convicted for sharing a controversial BBC report on his social media in December 2016.
Another letter issued in January raised concerns about Thai authorities’ detention of Vietnamese Pastor A Ga despite his recognition as a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Thai government has so far responded to two of the three letters, but kept mum on the one about peaceful protesters.
Meanwhile, 45 protesters yesterday were spared charges brought against them by the NCPO. They were accused of disturbing public peace, disobeying law officers, and violating the political assembly ban. Leaders of the demonstration were additionally accused of sedition, among other allegations. The police decided not to detain the protesters, reasoning the indictment files had not yet been completed. They scheduled to send the alleged offenders to the prosecutor on June 29.
Sixty-two people in total have been charged following the protest. Fifteen were leaders of the movement, who had already been arrested on the spot and released later. The 47 others were summoned to the Nang Leong Police Station yesterday to acknowledge the charges. Two of them did not show up yesterday.
Pro-election protesters on May 22 attempted to march from Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan Campus to Government House to call for the junta to step down and hold an election this year. The date also marked the fourth anniversary of the coup.
Scores of protesters yesterday assembled again in front of the United Nations office and marched from there to Nang Loeng Police Station to show solidarity with those facing criminal charges and resisting the coup-backed regime.
A number of representatives from embassies such as the European Union Delegation, United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, and France also observed yesterday’s event, aside from rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch and the National Human Rights Commission.