Counting the Human Cost of the Thai Coup
While the streets of Bangkok look mostly normal, the Thai junta’s crackdown has cut deeply into personal freedoms via directives that directly affect core human rights, according to a detailed analysis by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a group of attorneys and social activists that have been providing legal aid to those caught in the junta’s dragnet. According to the analysis, the National Council for Peace and Order – the organization created by the army to run the government – some 70 such directives have been issued, ranging from imposing martial law to banning gatherings of more than five people to ordering individuals to report to the authorities, to tightly circumscribing what can and can’t be printed or broadcast in the media. Military courts have been given jurisdiction to try offenders. “According to our information…the NCPO has called in publicly at least 454 individuals, and at least 57 have been informally summoned in the provinces,” according to the report, released on June 25. “At least 178 individuals have been arrested including 113 whose names have not been announced prior to their arrest, 55 apprehended during public demonstrations and 10 arrested for failing to report themselves as requested. Those who have been summoned “include a variety of people such as politicians, core leaders of the protests, business persons, academics, social activists and others. Upon their self-reporting, they were instantly denied the chance to contact other people. Some found themselves being blindfolded or hooded with plastic bags to prevent them from knowing where they were taken to. Other steps were taken to confuse them as to their location before they were delivered to military guesthouses. There is no evidence that they were mistreated.” But on the street, according to the report, the authorities are showing little lenience. People who flash three fingers – a sign of disrespect to the military – have been detained as have those either posting pictures on Facebook or holding up signs opposing the coup. One YouTube entry that went viral showed a young woman being shoved into a car and driven away after she flashed the sign. “Apprehension has evolved over time,” the report notes. “Initially, those coming out against the coup were subject to apprehension right on the spot where they were demonstrating. Later, the authorities simply took their photos while demonstrating and raided and arrested them afterward. Some were apprehended while leaving for home from protest sites or while they were doing their daily chores.” Some have been sent directly to jail cells without being informed of the charges. Others have been detained for failing to act on orders of the junta, the report continued. Some have been jailed merely over the way they behaved or expressed themselves in custody. Some have been threatened with solitary confinement. They have been deprived of their right to legal counsel. They have to been allowed to contact their relatives and held in incommunicado and barred from either reading newspapers or watching TV. Their attorneys had to approach the officials to ask for leniency or to get them to contact their families. Although relatives were allowed to bring medicine to the detainees, the detainees have not been allowed to see doctors. If their ailments became serious, then they would be transferred to hospital. If no charges were pressed against the detainees, they would be released at the police stations within three, five or seven days after being arrested. Upon their discharge, the detainees had to sign a contract agreeing to the terms set out by the military including by refraining from any political activism or expressing any political opinions. In some cases the military simply raided homes and took away individuals without any warrant to search their homes. The searches might lead to prosecution. As a result, people feel concerned about the exercise of power by the military, which seems to exceed what is provided for by law. “Since the imposition of Martial Law, control and censorship have been placed upon the broadcasting of free TV and satellite TV and community radio,” the report continues. “Access to a number of websites, inside and outside the country, has been blocked. Some publications have been removed from bookshops. And self-censorship has been employed by broadcast media, the press, online media and even bookshops. “ Amidst the large scale social transformation and the initiation and implementation of a number of public policies which may affect the life of normal people, press freedom to disseminate information and opinions from all sides is of utmost importance to ensure that people are informed of the benefits or impacts that might affect their livelihood. “Press freedom is pivotally important in a democracy as media are supposed to monitor the operation of the state and to report truthful information to public,” the report notes. “Banning or censoring broadcasting of TV and radio, by prohibiting TV programs from hosting academics to share their opinions, and by removing academic publications selling as well as by blocking access to websites and controlling social media, has led to a huge compromise for the public to receive information. As a result, decisions cannot be made based on informed consent, the organization said, asking that all notifications to censor and control media be revoked. The organization recommended the revocation of martial Law and rescind any Notifications issued invoking Martial Law countrywide since the necessities that require the invocation of Martial Law no longer exist and replace it with normal justice process as well as revocation of measures to censor and control media, that detentions invoking martial law cease, along with the prosecution of peaceful demonstrators who have expressed themselves or made criticisms faithfully and revoke any order to ban public assembly It also requested that the military stop summonses and impose no preconditions upon discharge of prisoners. Clear guidelines on arrest and detention should be issued in compliance with human rights principles. For example, the legal group said, those arrested and held in custody should be informed of the reasons for the arrest, the whereabouts of the detention, be able to contact their relatives and have their visits since as early as when they are first apprehended and deprived of their liberty, etc. It asked that trials of civilian in military courts be stopped, that those accused of violating the Notifications or Directives by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and prosecuted be treated as political prisoners and shall be held in custody separate from other offenders.