THAILAND: concerns over legal proceedings against 10 human rights defenders

Paris-Geneva-Bangkok, October 25, 2010. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), together with the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)[1], express their deep concern over the legal proceedings against ten human rights defenders who were charged in January 2008 for their participation in the peaceful demonstration at the Parliament House in Bangkok on December 12, 2007[2]. The Criminal Court is scheduled to conduct the first hearing of the cases on November 2, 2010.
 
The ten defenders are Mr. Jon Ungphakorn, Chairperson of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD); Mr. Pairoj Polpetch, UCL Secretary General; Mr. Sirichai Mai-ngarm, member of the Labour Union of Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand; Mr. Sawit Kaewwan, leader of the Confederation of State Enterprise Labour Union; Ms. Supinya Klang-narong, Secretary General of the Media Reform Campaign; Ms. Saree Ongsomwang, Chairperson of the Consumers’ Association; Mr. Amnat Palamee, leader of the Confederation of State Enterprise Labour Union; Mr. Nutzer Yeehama, a member of the NGO Friend of People; Mr. Anirut Chaosanit, member of the Council of People’s Organizations Network in Thailand and, Mr. Pichit Chaimongkol, member of the Campaign for Popular Democracy. They have all denied the charges brought against them.
 
The Observatory and UCL note with concerns that in addition to the initial charges, the Public Prosecutor added two additional ones under Section 116 and Section 215(3) of the Criminal Code[3] which carry heavier penalties. Convictions under Section 116 and Section 215(3) could lead to imprisonment up to seven years and five years, respectively.
 
Our organisations recall that the demonstration in question was organised to protest against the attempts of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which was installed by the military after the 2006 coup, to pass a total of eight bills affecting civil liberties in Thailand in the final days before the general election of December 23, 2007. The demonstration was entirely peaceful and no damage was caused to government property. There were no exchange of blows, nor any injury, when Messrs. Jon Ungphakorn and Pairoj Polpetch, along with some other protesters, managed to cross the surrounding fence and gain access to the Parliament Building. Once inside, the protesters peacefully negotiated with the police and two members of Parliament and left the building after their demand was accepted by the Speaker of the Parliament.
 
Section 116 and Section 215(3) of the Criminal Code apply to acts of or incitement of violence or unrest with an intention to cause harm or public disorder, to detain or restrict other persons, and to enter into a property to disturb the peaceful possession of those who own the property.
 
These charges with heavy penalties against individuals who were exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly to raise legitimate concerns about imminent restrictions on civil liberties seem merely aimed at punishing their activities in defense of human rights.
 
“Thailand should refrain from sanctioning critics through legal proceedings, as such acts are  inconsistent with Thailand’s obligations as a State Party to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and they denigrate Thailand’s credibility as a democracy who is currently also a Chair of the Human Rights Council”, FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said today.
 
“We more generally call upon the authorities of Thailand to conform in all circumstances with the 1998 United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders” OMCT Secretary General Eric Sottas added.
 
For more information, please contact :

• FIDH : Karine Appy : + 33 1 43 55 25 18
• OMCT : Seynabou Benga : + 41 22 809 49 39
• UCL : Danthong Breen: +66 275 4230

URL: www.hrcp-web.org

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