Thailand: Military government's clampdown on human rights must end before elections

The Thai authorities must drop all arbitrary restrictions on human rights and peaceful political activities before elections in February, Amnesty International said today, ahead of a crucial meeting between the ruling military government and political parties.

Thailand’s military government has provisionally scheduled general elections for 24 February. If held, these would be the first elections since it seized power in a coup in 2014.

The government is expected to meet with political parties today to discuss ‘political plans and processes leading towards the general election’.

As a first step, authorities must fully lift the arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, said Amnesty.

Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand Campaigner, said:

“Since the coup, the regime has imposed a raft of repressive and unwarranted bans on political activity and the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

“These bans have severely damaged Thailand’s human rights, political life – and reputation.

“Thailand’s military government has pledged to lift these in the future, as it proceeds with a roadmap towards elections. But so far, the junta has taken virtually no steps towards fulfilling this promise.

“While Thai authorities have said they may lift some restrictions from next week, they must go all the way. The government must end its use of fear, intimidation and imprisonment against individuals who are peacefully speaking their mind.”

Hundreds facing lengthy jail sentences

Across Thailand, hundreds of students, academics, journalists, lawyers, activists and others are facing long jail sentences for peaceful criticism, gathering in public, calling for their rights to be restored or simply calling for elections.

At today’s meeting, Thai authorities must announce immediate measures to allow people to fully exercise their rights without fear of imprisonment and harassment. They must allow people to receive and distribute information online and from the media, engage in public debate and campaigns, gather peacefully and demonstrate, criticise politicians and express diverse or dissenting viewpoints without fear of imprisonment or persecution.

The authorities should also send a clear signal of their commitment to uphold these rights by dropping charges – and repealing convictions – of all individuals targeted solely for peacefully exercising their rights.

Charges against political parties

Most recently, charges have been brought against the heads of the Seri Thai and Freedom Forward political parties, against whom officials raised criminal complaints in September and earlier this month.

In September, political parties were given limited permission to meet and elect party heads – taken by many as a sign that elections were going ahead and that further political restrictions would be removed. But that same month, the authorities charged the Future Forward Party with violating the Computer Crimes Act for posting perceived criticism of authorities on Facebook.

Katherine Gerson said:

“As the junta moves closer to holding these elections, they continue a pattern of legally harassing their opponents into silence.

“For too long, the military government has used public order as a pretext to shield themselves from criticism and cling to draconian controls on people coming together and speaking their mind.”

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