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CIVICUS Monitor raises alarm over escalating repression in Thailand

The CIVICUS Monitor has added Thailand to its watchlist due to increased repression of activists, critics, and opposition figures by the government. Activists face arrests under royal defamation laws, digital surveillance, and threats of party dissolution, undermining civic freedoms.

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Thai activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom dies after hunger strike protesting reform of Thailand's lèse-majesté law.

The CIVICUS Monitor has added Thailand to its watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms. The addition comes as a result of the increasing targeting of activists, critics, and opposition figures by the government of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

According to the CIVICUS Monitor, in recent months, the Thai government has intensified the use of royal defamation (lèse-majesté) provisions, or Article 112, to arrest and convict activists, critics, and politicians accused of insulting the monarchy.

Courts routinely deny bail to individuals charged or impose strict conditions in cases where bail is granted. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reports that since early 2020, more than 270 people have been charged under this law, with at least 17 currently in pre-trial detention.

The CIVICUS Monitor highlighted several recent cases, including the sentencing of prominent human rights lawyer and democracy activist Arnon Nampa to an additional two years of imprisonment in April 2024. In May 2024, opposition lawmaker and activist Chonthicha Jangrew of the Move Forward Party received a two-year jail sentence.

Activist Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, who campaigned to repeal the lèse-majesté provision, tragically died in custody in May 2024 after suffering a cardiac arrest. No one has been held accountable for her death.

Despite the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, the CIVICUS Monitor notes concerns raised by human rights groups about women and LGBTQI+ activists being unlawfully targeted with digital surveillance, including Pegasus spyware, and online harassment by state and non-state actors, aimed at silencing them.

“Thai authorities must drop the cases of all those charged with lèse-majesté and release all those in pre-trial detention or have been convicted. Article 112 is inconsistent with Thailand’s international human rights obligations and must be amended immediately. The authorities must also launch an independent, thorough, and effective investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware against activists that has created a chilling effect among activists,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia researcher.

The CIVICUS Monitor is also concerned about transnational repression in Thailand. Human rights groups have reported an upsurge in repression directed at foreign nationals seeking refugee protection in Thailand.

Foreign governments have subjected exiled dissidents and activists to harassment, surveillance, and physical violence, often with the cooperation and knowledge of Thai authorities. Most recently, Vietnamese activist Y Quynh Bdap was detained in Thailand on 11 June 2024 and is at risk of deportation, where he could face severe persecution.

“It is extremely worrying that a country that is seeking a place on the UN Human Rights Council is facilitating harassment, surveillance, and physical violence of activists from abroad seeking refuge in Thailand. The authorities must end such actions and instead create a safe haven for activists fleeing persecution from neighboring countries,” added Benedict.

The opposition Move Forward Party, which won the highest number of seats in the 2023 parliamentary elections, is at risk of being dissolved by the Constitutional Court. Its executives face a 10-year ban on political activity for their pledge to amend the royal defamation provisions. The petition to the courts was filed by the Election Commission.

Disbanding the Move Forward Party would violate the rights to freedom of association and undermine the progress made to restore democracy following the coup and military rule, according to the CIVICUS Monitor.

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