NEW YORK-BASED Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Thailand’s ruling junta to drop charges against government critics, including outspoken journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk and former Cabinet ministers Pichai Naripthaphan and Watana Muangsook.
The rights watchdog, in a statement yesterday, called the criminal charges recently filed against the three men the latest examples of the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO’s) contempt for the right to freedom of expression and peaceful dissent.
“The Thai junta’s dictatorial reach has expanded well beyond traditional sources, to social media like Facebook,” said Brad Adams, the group’s director for Asia.
“These dubious charges for peaceful Facebook commentary should be dropped immediately.”
The three critics are accused of sedition and computer crime, charges that have become common in the government’s dealings with anti-junta activists.
“After more than three years in power, the Thai junta has failed to show any real commitment to reversing its abusive rights practices or protecting fundamental freedoms,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should call out Thailand for claiming to respect rights while wilfully violating them.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday upheld the Appeal Court’s ruling, handing down a punishment of two months in prison to pro-democracy activist Sombat Boonngamanong for failing to report to the NCPO on being summoned in 2014 but suspended the sentence for one year.
Sombat, better known as Bor Kor Lai Jud, was among the first political activists summoned by the NCPO soon after it staged the coup in 2014. He, however, did not answer the summons and was arrested in less than two weeks after the order.
Sombat was prosecuted for failing to report to the NCPO as well as failing to abide by an order given by a legally authorised public officer.
The Criminal Court ruled that the NCPO’s announcement against dissent, which carries a punishment of up to Bt40,000 fine and up to two years in prison, came after the action had already been committed. Hence, it should not have retrospective effect, the court said.
This is in addition to the fact that the NCPO’s announcement targeted certain people as enlisted in the summons. The court explained that it was illegal to issue a law in order to punish some people.
However, Sombat remained guilty of violating Section 368 of the Criminal Code for disobeying the authority’s order, according to the ruling. He was fined Bt500, but not held liable for imprisonment.
Both the accuser and the defendant appealed the verdict. The Appeal Court last year found him guilty and ruled he should be fined Bt3,000 and serve two months in jail, but suspended the punishment for one year.