THE PATTANI provincial prosecutor has formally ended a criminal defamation case against Amnesty International Thailand chairperson, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and two other human rights activists, Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemmina.
Amnesty’s regional director said it was “heartening” that the charges against “three brave human rights defenders have finally been dropped”, but added that Thailand needed to stop retaliating against people for simply telling the truth.
James Gomez, Amnesty International director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the charges should not have been brought in the first place.
“Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homla-or and Anchana Heemmina did nothing but stand up, peacefully, for the rights of others, and it is outrageous to think they could have faced jail time simply for exposing torture by the military,” Gomez said.
The Thai government had a responsibility to ensure human rights defenders could do their work “without fear of retaliation”, Gomez said. “All charges must be dropped against those who are imprisoned or facing criminal proceedings merely for exercising their human rights peacefully.
“The Thai government must also immediately decriminalise defamation, as these laws are often used to prosecute those reporting torture and other rights violations,” Gomez said.
“Even if a case does not go to trial, the filing of criminal complaints and charges are [sic] a potent form of harassment that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”
In February 2016, the Cross-Cultural Foundation and Duay Jai (Hearty Support) Group published a joint report alleging 54 cases of torture and other ill treatment by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army in Thailand’s southern provinces.
Three months later, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4, which is responsible for security operations in the area, initiated criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against the three human rights activists who edited the report.
In March 2017, after campaigning by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, military officials stated that they would withdraw the charges. However, prosecutors did not formally drop defamation charges until Wednesday.
In recent years, Thai authorities have targeted many activists, human rights defenders, journalists and other members of Thailand’s civil society as part of a systematic crackdown on government critics.