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Criminalising symbolic gestures 'will only widen rift'

Considering all symbolic gestures against the military coup as criminal acts might end up escalating political conflicts, Niran Pitakwatchara, from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), warned yesterday.

"It may create an alliance [of protesters who may not have been against the coup in the first place] and escalate the situation leading to bigger conflicts instead of reconciliation," Niran told The Nation over the phone.

"I think it's about people's rights to express different political opinions," Niran said, adding that even without a Constitution in place, every Thai was entitled to basic rights, which includes freedom of expression.

Niran said the NHRC had resolved to ensure those arrested over anti-coup activities were treated with international standards and that their cases were transparent. He pointed out that some of those who were arrested could not even get in touch with their loved ones.

"The NHRC has resolved to act as the middleman and work with the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] to ensure the principles of human rights are adhered to," he said.

Niran went on to say the location where the detainees are being kept should at least be made known to their relatives, especially those living in the provinces. The NCPO has been saying that revealing the location of the Army camp where the detainees have been taken to might encourage protesters to gather outside.

Niran said the NHRC was trying to collect information about all detention cases, but did not have any exact figures at hand. Those affected and their relatives are also encouraged to contact the NHRC for assistance.

Niran said the NHRC was working in tandem with other human rights non-governmental organisations, such as iLaw, along with a group of human-rights lawyers, who have visited some of the detainees.

The commissioner also voiced concern about military threats against student activists and academics from Khon Kaen University who are protesting against a gold-mine operation in the Northeast.


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