Thai authorities should urgently and impartially investigate assaults on three prominent pro-democracy activists since May. Police have yet to arrest any suspects for the violent attacks, raising serious concerns about possible government involvement.
On June 2 at about 10pm, five unidentified men on motorcycles attacked Sirawith “New” Seritiwat at a bus stop on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. They hit him multiple times with wooden sticks, injuring his head, face, arms, and torso. The attack occurred shortly after Sirawith held a signature collection event in downtown Bangkok for a petition that urged the 250 incoming senators not to support the military junta leader, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, for another term in office. Police told Human Rights Watch that security cameras in the area were either broken or blocked by trees, so they have no footage of the assailants.
“Violence by thugs against pro-democracy activists has become a dangerous new trend in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The failure of Thai authorities to seriously investigate these assaults both encourages future attacks and suggests a possible role by officials.”
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta has repeatedly pledged to respect human rights and restore democratic civilian rule, but events in recent months have increased the climate of fear among pro-democracy activists in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said.
In May, unidentified assailants assaulted and injured two prominent dissidents, Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich and Ekachai Hongkangwan, in Bangkok. In both cases, the police did not seriously investigate the attacks. Ekachai had earlier filed formal complaints from previous attacks with the Justice Ministry’s Department of Rights and Liabilities Protection and the National Human Rights Commission.
On May 27, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan publicly rejected criticism of the police force during a media interview, saying: “The police are doing their job properly. They [Anurak and Ekachai] should asked themselves what they have done. Why would someone want to hurt them?”
Thai authorities are obliged to ensure that everyone engaged in protecting and promoting human rights in Thailand can do so in a safe and enabling environment. However, many activists are increasingly being targeted for harassment and politically motivated prosecution. For example, in January 2016, Army soldiers abducted Sirawith and only turned him over to police custody following a public outcry. Sirawith faces a number of criminal charges, including sedition, for his peaceful protests against the military junta.
Since the military coup in May 2014, the junta has harassed, threatened and prosecuted pro-democracy activists and dissidents in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. In addition, the junta has summoned hundreds of politicians, activists and others deemed to oppose military rule for “attitude adjustment” sessions to compel them to stop expressing dissenting opinions.
Eight exiles missing or dead
Pro-democracy activists and dissidents who have fled political persecution in Thailand have been at grave risk in neighbouring countries. In Laos, unidentified assailants abducted at least five Thai exiles; three were found murdered and two others remain missing. In May, Vietnam allegedly forcibly returned three activists to Thailand who have since gone missing.
“Thailand’s friends should not let the recent elections become an excuse for ignoring the deteriorating rights situation in the country,” Adams said. “Thailand needs a vibrant human rights community more than ever, and concerned governments should be clear to the Thai leadership that real action needs to be taken to end the attacks on activists.”