At 3am on May 20, 2014, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, announced that martial law was immediately in force. After two days of uncertainty, in which martial law co-existed with the constitution and the caretaker government remained nominally in power, General Prayuth led a coup at approximately 5 pm on May 22, 2014. A military junta, acting in the name of the National Order Maintenance Council (NOMC), abrogated the 2007 Constitution and installed itself as the government. Under martial law, there were already significant restrictions on freedom of expression and political freedom in place, and the military possessed extensive power to arrest and detain arbitrarily. Prior to the coup, there were severe restrictions on political demonstration put in place; subsequent to the coup, all political gatherings are illegal. The coup has intensified the power of the military. After over six months of increasing political contention during which the military remained largely silent, they have spoken through the violence of the coup.

One day after the coup, citizens began to peacefully express their opposition to the coup in defiance of martial law and the junta’s orders. Beginning at 5 pm on May 23, 2014, hundreds of Thai citizens began peacefully demonstrating against the coup in front of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center in Siam Square in central Bangkok. Citizens lit candles and stood in groups and held signs criticising the coup and the imposition of military rule. Similar gatherings were held in other cities throughout the country.

After allowing the protest to take place for several, the military then took action to arrest peaceful demonstrators and end the event. Prachatai online newspaper has reported that 7.30 pm, at least five persons, two women and three men, were arrested by the soldiers in front of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center. The identities of the two women are not known, but Prachatai has reported that the three men who were arrested and taken are Thanapol Eawsakul (editor of Same Sky magazine), Apichat Phongsawat, and Bunyarak Wattanarat (age 20) (A video of the arrest was made by Matichon TV. By 8.10 pm, the soldiers had taken control of the area and the demonstrations had dispersed. At this time of this statement, the location and conditions of the five people taken by the soldiers is not known.

Under the terms of martial law, which have been in place since two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. People arrested can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased. In southern Thailand, where martial law has been in continual force since January 2004, the instrument has been used to arbitrarily detain and activists as well as ordinary citizens.

The situation of human rights situation in Thailand following the imposition of martial law since 20 May 2014 is rapidly deteriorating; and subsequently a  military coup on 22 May 2014.

Increasing restrictions have been imposed on the exercise and enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms while violations continue unabated without any accountability or safeguard mechanisms put in place by the military government.

In a time of deep political turmoil and uncertainty, the restrictions on press freedom – through the initial silencing of TV stations and channels, sweeping restrictions on print, broadcast and online media, blocking of websites and threats to shut down social media – are particularly worrying as people are denied access to crucial information, critical analysis and the opportunity to discuss  issues of national importance.

This is further exacerbated by the recent summons and arrests of academics, journalists and other media practitioners who  continued to report on or speak out against the coup. The reprisals against the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion is reprehensible and expression, in particular those who hold dissenting views from the military.

All restrictions that prevent the access of the public to timely and accurate reports must be withdrawn and the media should be allowed to operate in an environment that is conducive for the discharging of their professional duty.

The arbitrary arrest and detention of persons, including politicians, is deplorable and political activists, academics, journalists and anti-coup peaceful protesters, by the military. To date, the whereabouts of a number of those detained have not been disclosed. They have also not been duly informed of the reasons for arrest or formally charged in court. This is in clear violation of Thailand’s international legal obligations as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates the strict and limited application of emergency powers.

These measures, and the continuing summon of persons, suggest attempts to pre-empt, intimidate and silence any possible criticism targeted at the military. This is further compounded by the recent announcement by the military to subject violators of security laws and standing orders to court-martial proceedings.

The incidences of clashes and the use of excessive force between military personnel and civilians during anti-coup protests that have been held in various parts of Bangkok is a cause of concern. The National Peace and Order Council (NPOC) must act with restraint and its soldiers must observe maximum tolerance in handling voices of dissent to avoid further violations of rights. Finally, rule of law must be established as well as respect and protection of human rights in this turbulent period. These concerns must not be disregarded even as the country attempts to find a way out of the political impasse. It is imperative for all actors involved to find, at the earliest,  a democratic solution to the current political situation.

Army issues summons to activists, academics, writers, and others

Clip_100On May 24, 2014, the National Peace and Order Maintenance Council (NPOMC, formerly NOMC) issued Order No. 5/2014 broadcast on the radio and television demanding that 35 persons report themselves to the Army auditorium at Thewet Road by 4 pm on May 24, 2014. At 9 pm on May, the NPOMC issued Order No. 6/2014 demanding than an additional person report himself to the Army auditorium by 10 am on May 25, 2014. The penalty for not obeying the summons carries a maximum prison term and a 40,000 baht fine.

The list includes Worachet Pakeerut and Sawatree Suksri, academics from the Khana Nitirat, a group of progressive legal academics at Thammasat University, as well as political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun, philosopher Surapot Thaweesak, historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, and communications scholar Suda Rangkupan. The list includes three former political prisoners who were accused of violating Article 112 and were then pardoned and exonerated, who are Suraphak Phuchaisaeng, Surachai Danwattananusorn, and Thantawut Taweewarodomkul. Thanapol Eawsakul, writer and editor of Same Sky magazine, who had been arrested the prior day during a peaceful protest is also on the list (AHRC-STM-099-2014). Two writers, Nithiwat Wannasiri and Wat Wanlayankul, are also included on the list. Outspoken journalist for the Nation newspaper, Pravit Rojanaphruk, was the person to receive the additional summons.

The use of public broadcast media to issue wide-ranging summons to citizens functions as a form of terror. Human rights defenders, activists, academics, writers, and other citizens do not know when they will hear their name announced and when they will have to turn themselves over to the authorities.

The order for citizens to report themselves represents a violation of the Government of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a State Party, notably article 9, and specifically that:

“1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. 2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him. 3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release…”

Detention of those ordered to report under these two orders of the junta is a clear case of arbitrary detention. Those on the lists have not been formally charged with any alleged crimes. If the junta has evidence that those in detention have committed wrongdoing, then they should be formally charged through the judicial system and using the Criminal Code.

While the junta has made reassurances that those who report themselves will not be mistreated, within the context of martial law and rule by the junta, this reassurance carries no weight. Citizens are subject to up to seven days of detention without the authorities having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. Detainees can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased.

Army summons and arrests in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

Clip_103Since the May 22, 2014 coup, the ruling military junta of the NPOMC has begun a process of mass arrests of those who oppose them. This has included the arrest of peaceful demonstrators in Bangkok on May 23, 2014 and in Chiang Mai and Bangkok on May 24, 2014, as well as a series of orders announced via public broadcast beginning on May 24, 2014, for citizens to report themselves to the military.

In addition, according to information documented by Prachatai online newspaper, there are 12 red shirt activists who been arrested following requests to report themselves and are currently in detention in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in northern Thailand.

In Chiang Mai province, there are 9 persons who have been detained since being called to report themselves at 7 pm on May 22, 2014, from three different red shirt groups.

Prachatai has reported that all of this group except for Sucheera Raksaphakdee are suspected of being held at the Seventh Army Regiment Camp (also known as Khun Nen Camp) in Mae Rim. Sucheera Raksaphakdee is suspected of being held at the Army Force Base 41 in Chiang Mai city. Others reports indicate that the number of those detained in Chiang Mai may be higher than these 9 who are known to who are known to be detained. There are also reports that the home of Professor Thanet Charoenmuang, political scientist and education advisor to the former Pheu Thai government, has been raided multiple times but that he has not been arrested.

In Chiang Mai province, there are 3 persons known to be held. The location of detention of these three persons is not known. An unknown number of red shirt leaders and additional persons have been told to report themselves to the military in Chiang Rai.

On May 25, 2014, Colonel Winthai Suwaree, the spokesperson for the NPOMC said at a press conference that the three persons would not be detained for longer than 7 days. The junta has maintained that they will not reveal the total number of people who have been requested to report, detained, and/or released, nor the places of detention. When asked if detainees had the right to meet with a lawyer, he commented that, “This is a matter in which understanding must be adjusted. Those who have come to report themselves do not need a lawyer because they are not offenders ”. If those who are detained are not in need of a lawyer because they have not been judged guilty of violating the law, then why are they being detained? The contradiction animating Colonel Winthai’s own words confirms that the detention of Thanapol Eawsakul, Surapot Thaweesak, and Sudsanguan Suthisorn and others currently being held is arbitrary.

Clip_101While the junta has made reassurances that those who report themselves will not be mistreated, within the context of martial law and rule by the junta, this reassurance carries no weight. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased. Any assurances of safety are further called into question by Colonel Winthai Suntharee’s refusal to reveal the locations of places of detention or to provide more specific information about the precise numbers and identities of those who are detained.

In the years of political turmoil since the September 19, 2006 coup, a strong and robust culture of human rights protection and criticism of injustice has grown in Thailand. Scholars, intellectual and writers outside universities, human rights lawyers and nongovernmental organization activists, students, and others have publicly written, spoken, and demonstrated against state violence, the lack of accountability for state abuses, the unequal application of law and the constriction of freedom of speech.

This awareness and action in the service of human rights is behind the peaceful protests against the coup on May 23, 2014. These protests are likely to continue.

Clip_11All of this was preceded by a Thai court ordering the PM Yingluck Shinawatra removed from office, a highly divisive move and a victory for a powerful opposition movement that for six months has sought to overthrow the government.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Ms. Yingluck abused her power when she transferred a civil servant to another post more than three years ago. The court ordered her to step down immediately along with all members of her cabinet who were in office at the time of the transfer.

Ms. Yingluck’s party called the decision a “new form of coup d’état.”

Leaders of Ms. Yingluck’s party quickly announced that a deputy PM, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, would become acting prime minister.

It was the third time since 2006 that a PM representing the political movement founded by Ms. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra has been removed by court order. The movement, which has its power base in the provinces, has won every election since 2001 but has antagonized the Bangkok establishment, a struggle that is at the heart of Thailand’s eight years of political crisis.

Thailand for decades was considered an island of pluralism, freedom and strong economic growth — especially in contrast with its neighbors — but its economy has suffered during the recent turmoil, and leaders have warned of civil war.

The court’s decision, which highlights its overtly political role, throws into question elections announced for July 20, which the governing party was expected to win because of its strong support in the northern provinces.

The court decision was part of a “new form of coup d’état in order to establish a new regime and destroy the hope of the people who want to see the country progress democratically and with rule of law.”

The antigovernment movement, which is armed, continued to block access to the prime minister’s office and a number of other government facilities in Bangkok.

Ms. Yingluck, 46, was the country’s first female prime minister but was loathed by the opposition and called a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who has lived abroad since a 2006 military coup and a subsequent conviction for abuse of power in a highly politicized trial.

“I am so sorry that I no longer have the opportunity to serve the people,” Ms. Yingluck said on national television after the court decision, adding that she was proud that she became PM “through democratic means.”

Ms. Yingluck could face further legal proceedings on charges that she mismanaged the government’s costly subsidy program for rice farmers, charges that could lead to a prison term and a ban from politics.

The court’s verdict was unanimous and was reached with unusual speed. It was delivered just one day after Ms. Yingluck gave evidence at the court.

As the antigovernment movement cheered the decision to remove Ms. Yingluck, independent legal experts despaired over what they described as the crusading role of the courts and the damage to the prestige of the judiciary.

The decision to remove Ms. Yingluck is “total nonsense in a democratic society,” said the deputy dean of the law faculty at Siam University in Bangkok. “This is what I would call a juristocracy — a system of government governed by judges,” he said.

In one of its most notable decisions, the Constitutional Court in 2008 removed another prime minister, also from Mr. Thaksin’s political movement, because he had appeared on a televised cooking show. On Wednesday the court cited the cooking show case as precedent in its decision.

The grounds for Ms. Yingluck’s ouster were that she did not give sufficient justification when she transferred the secretary general of the National Security Council, Thawil Pliensri, to another post in 2011. The court said that Ms. Yingluck was within her rights to remove Mr. Thawil but that the move was rushed, intended to free up another job for a relative of Ms. Yingluck’s and not done according to “moral principles.”

In a stark symbol of the dysfunction of the Thai government, Mr. Thawil was reinstated, on court order, last week, and he told the news media that even while in office, he would continue to support the movement to remove the government.