THE UNITED Nations human rights body has urged the junta to lift political restrictions, even as individual Thais ramp up political activities on social media and call for the relaxation of restrictions well ahead of the election recently announced for next February.
At the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday described Thailand as still suffering from restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and assembly.
“I continue to receive reports of judicial harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders, journalists, politicians and civil society activists for legitimately expressing their opinions on political and social matters,” Zeid said in an oral update.
Zeid said he welcomed as progress the government’s decision to mainstream human rights as part of the Thailand 4.0 scheme.
The scheme was also raised by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who also attended the session in Geneva. Human rights had been designated as a national agenda item “for the first-time ever” last November as vital to achieving sustainable development, Don said.
While addressing the importance of freedom of expression, Don insisted that it must be “exercised with respect to the rights and reputations of others”.
Meanwhile, Deputy PM and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday reiterated that the ban against gatherings is still in effect for political parties and they are not yet allowed to discuss political issues.
Prawit was commenting on the recent online comments of 39-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who has vowed to set up an alternative political party along with progressive law lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.
Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Wednesday that the junta is considering whether Thanathorn’s social media communications, from a Facebook live interview to trending Twitter hashtags, might “cross the line” and trigger government action.
Also yesterday, 50 protesters turned themselves in to the police and denied all charges filed against them following their participation in a February 10 assembly in which they demanded that the junta government proceed with the promised election this year.
They were charged with violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings and the public assembly bill. The seven protest leaders were also charged with instigating public disturbances.
After being interrogated at Bangkok’s Nang Loeng Police Station, they were all released after being told to meet police again on the morning of March 27 at the station to hear whether public prosecutors will indict them.
Only the summoned protesters, their family members and lawyers were allowed inside the police station. Other people, including friends, reporters and the protest leaders who had previously met with police, were prevented from entering. Some activists were also involved in an exchange with junior police officers blocking them from entering the police station, and a non-commissioned policeman on duty told them that they were acting on orders from their supervisors.