Appendix: Human rights groups call for withdrawal of charges against three Thai human rights defenders

Appendix: Human rights groups call for withdrawal of charges against three Thai human rights defenders

Joint statement prepared by Protection International
13 June 2016

We, the undersigned civil society groups, are gravely concerned about the legal action taken by the Royal Thai Army for criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act violations against Woman Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Ms. Anchana Heemmina, and HRD Mr. Somchai Homlaor. Ms. Pornpen is the Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation – an organization which monitors and documents cases of torture and ill treatment in Thailand. Mr. Somchai is the President of the Cross Cultural Foundation, and Ms. Anchana is director of Duay Jai Group (Hearty Support Group) – a local organization based in Thailand’s ‘Deep South’, which supports people who suffer from the justice system in national security cases. All three are co-editors of a report, Torture and ill treatment in The Deep South Documented in 2014-2015 documenting 54 cases of inhumane treatment in detention, launched on 10th February 2016. The research and report was partly funded by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, established under the General Assembly resolution 36/151 in 1981, thus under the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Resolution 12/2 these HRDs and their colleagues are “individuals who cooperate with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of Human Rights.”

On 8th June 2016, Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4) gave information to Ms. Pornpen through a phone conversation that ISOC 4 sought the power of attorney from the Royal Thai Army and submitted a complaint to Yala Mueang Police Station on 17th May 2016 for criminal defamation and computer-related violations by the three HRDs. The charges are for alleged criminal defamation under Article 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, and violation of the Computer Crimes Act (2007), Article 14(1). We are disturbed regarding information that authorities have already interrogated six witnesses. The Police case file is No. 704/2559.

This judicial action has been taken despite the Human Rights Defenders’ best efforts to engage authorities on the evidence of torture and ill treatment presented in the report. Namely, the report was sent to Army Lt Gen Wiwat Pathompak, Commander of the 4th Army Region, on 8th January 2016, one month before its publication. However, high-ranking military government officials have publicly dismissed the accuracy of the report and questioned the intentions of the civil society organisations who compiled the report. Furthermore, Ms. Anchana, WHRD working in Thailand’s ‘Deep South’, faced summons to an Army camp, lengthy questioning by Army officers, and close physical surveillance and intimidation by unidentified, uniformed men.

We deem this action by the Royal Thai Army to be a prompt reprisal against civil society groups seeking to bring to the authorities’ attention the continued abuse of power and ill treatment of detainees in Thailand. The Royal Thai Army has taken these actions at a time when it the Thai military government has renewed the Thailand’s international commitments to abolishing the use of torture. On 11th May 2016, at the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Thailand 12 UN member states issued recommendations directly relating to the prevention of torture and access to justice for survivors of torture. Furthermore, on 24th May 2016 the Thai military government issued a Cabinet Resolution stating that they will pass a Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act. It is troubling that the Royal Thai Army has ordered the legal pursuit of HRDs who have been supporting victims of torture as well as pushing at many levels for policy reform and state action to prevent torture and provide justice to survivors.

We deem the Royal Thai Army’s action to be an unreasonable, arbitrary, and heavy-handed attempt to silence all complaints of allegations of torture against the authorities. By quashing Ms. Pornpen, Ms. Anchana, and Mr. Somchai’s efforts to support torture victims to publicly complain about Human Rights violations by authorities, the Royal Thai Army is seeking to make it more than impossible for torture victims to voice their complaints. Moreover, this is a deplorable act by the Royal Thai Army as it aims to further intimidate existing and potential victims of human rights violations to not report these violations. Instead of suppressing the work of Human Rights Defenders, such as Ms. Pornpen, Ms. Anchana, and Mr. Somchai, the Royal Thai Army should, as New Zealand recommended at the UPR, “Promptly investigate and prosecute all allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings,” and as Canada recommended, “Create an independent body to investigate all torture allegations, including in Thailand’s Deep South, and bring perpetrators to justice.”

This judicial harassment constitutes a direct infringement of Ms. Pornpen, Ms. Anchana, and Mr. Somchai’s right to work as a Human Rights Defender in Thailand. As stated in Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders “Everyone has the right to (individually and in association with others) promote and to strive for the realization of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international level.” We believe that the filing of this criminal legal case against Ms. Pornpen, Ms. Anchana, and Mr. Somchai was undertaken with the purpose of retaliation and that it is in response to the three HRDs peaceful and legitimate activities to hold authorities to account for cases of human rights violations, including torture, in Thailand’s ‘Deep South.’

We call on the Royal Thai Army to:
− Immediately and unconditionally withdraw the legal action against Ms. Pornpen, Ms. Anchana, and Mr. Somchai. Such legal action against the legitimate work of HRDs is against the public interest.
− Ensure that no further retaliation is carried out or allowed to happen in the future against HRDs, ill-treatment and torture victims, their colleagues and families.
− Ensure the implementations of recommendations it accepted during the recent UPR with regard to HRDs.

We call on the Thai military government to:
− Respect the universally recognized rights, duties and obligations of everyone and organizations to highlight information about Human Rights violations and injustices to the public, as stated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
− Ensure that all persons affected by torture and other human rights violations receive justice, including first and foremost the right to complain which must be respected at all times.

Signed by:

Organisations in Thailand
Aanglumphong Conservation Groups and Archaeological Site
Assembly of the Poor
Centre for Community Rights to Manage Natural Resources, Chi Basin
Center to Study and Develop Law for Human Rights
Centre to Study and Ecology Habitation of Community Culture in Phetchabun
Chi Basin Network, Yasothon
Community Resource Centre (CRC)
Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)
Empower Foundation
E-saan Human Rights and Peace Information Centre
E-saan Land Reform Network
E-saan Network on Natural Resources and Environment
Foundation for Muslim Attorneys Center
Foundation for Women
Gender equality promoting foundation
Human Rights Lawyers’ Association (HRLA)
Land Watch Working Group
Mplus Foundation
Namoon Environmental Conservation Group
Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand (NIPT)
Network of Thaiban People Deprived of Rights
People’s Empowerment Foundation
Prorights Foundation
Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT)
Saiburi River Association
Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation (TCR)
Thai Development Support Center (TDSC)
Thai Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism
Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA)
Udonthani Environmental Conservation Group
Union for Civil liberty (UCL)
WARTANI Media Agency
WE PEACE
Women Struggle for Livelihood
WeMove
Women Network for Advancement and Peace
Work and Environment Related Patient’s Network of Thailand (WEPT)

Beyond Thailand
Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP, Myanmar)
Center for Women’s Global Leadership (USA)
Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET)
Malaysian Humanist and Rationalist Movement (MyHARAM)
National Free Trade Union (Sri Lanka)
North South Initiative (Malaysia)
PINAY (Filipino Women’s Organization in Quebec)
PUSAT KOMAS (Malaysia)
Safety and Rights Society (Bangladesh)
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (France)
Think Centre (Singapore)
Vietnam Indigenous Knowledge Network (VTIK)
Workers Hub For Change (WH4C, Malaysia)

Regional/International
Amnesty International
ASEAN Youth Forum
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
AWID
Center for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (CSDM, Vietnam)
Civil Rights Defenders
Focus on the Global South
International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF)
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
Nazra for Feminist Studies
Network of Patani’s Citizens Outside the Motherland
Protection International
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
UPR Info Asia
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
Urgent Action Fund Latin America
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Watch

(New York, 6 June 2016) – The Thai military should immediately withdraw its criminal complaints against three human rights defenders for reporting alleged torture by government security forces in southern Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.

The military’s actions pose a serious threat to all human rights monitoring and reporting in Thailand at a time when rights abuses are widespread in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Thai military is targeting human rights activists for reporting grave abuses and standing up for victims,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should order these criminal complaints withdrawn and do what it should have done in the first place: seriously investigate the report’s allegations of torture.”

It was recently reported that on May 17, 2016, the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 – which covers national security operations in the provinces along the southern border – filed a criminal complaint in Yala against prominent human rights activists Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkie, and Anchana Heemmina. The complaint accuses the three of criminal defamation under the Penal Code and publicizing false information online under the Computer Crimes Act.

The complaint makes reference to the February report by the Cross Cultural Foundation, Duay Jai Group, and the Patani Human Rights Network that documents 54 cases in which Thai security personnel allegedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated ethnic Malay Muslim insurgent suspects between 2004 and 2015. If charged and convicted, the activists face up to five years in prison or a 100,000 baht (US$2,850) fine.

Thai authorities have an obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment, Human Rights Watch said. The right to file complaints about torture and mistreatment and to have the complaint promptly and impartially investigated is ensured under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties.

The Thai military has a longstanding practice of dismissing allegations of torture and other serious abuses committed by security personnel in the southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said. Thai authorities have also frequently retaliated against reporting of alleged rights abuses by filing lawsuits accusing critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging their reputation.

The military’s attempted use of a criminal complaint to retaliate against human rights defenders is contrary to Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s recent promise to criminalize torture and fulfill Thailand’s international obligations against the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited under international treaties and customary international law. The Convention against Torture, which Thailand ratified in 2007, obligates governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment committed by government officials. However, the Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.

In June 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”

Separatist insurgents in southern Thailand called the Patani Freedom Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani,) part of the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or National Revolution Front-Coordinate), continue to maintain a presence in hundreds of villages despite significant setbacks in recent years. The insurgents use state-sponsored abuses and heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics to recruit new members and justify their campaign of violence and terror, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since fighting erupted in January 2004.

“Atrocities by separatist insurgents provide no justification for abuses by Thai security forces,” Adams said. “Covering up torture and other crimes by targeting human rights activists only undermines efforts to improve the security situation in the deep south.”

Lawyers Rights Watch – Canada
13 June 2016

General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Prime Minister and Director of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)
Ruen Ruedi Palace, Nakhon Ratchasima Rd.
Dusit District, Bangkok, Thailand
Fax: +66 2 282 5131
Email: prforeign@gmail.com

General Prawit Wongsuwan
Defense Minister and Vice-Chairman of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)
RuenRuedi Palace, NakhonRatchasima Rd.
Dusit District, Bangkok, Thailand

General Anupong Paochinda
Minister of Interior
Asatang Road, Ratchabophit,
Bangkok 10200, Thailand

General Udomdet Sitabut
Secretary General of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)
RuenRuedi Palace, Nakhon Ratchasima Rd.
Dusit District, Bangkok, Thailand

General Theerachai Nakvanich
Commander in Chief, Royal Thai Army
Deputy-Director of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)
Ruen Ruedi Palace, Nakhon Ratchasima Rd.
Dusit District, Bangkok, Thailand
Email: informdepart@gmail.com

Dear Prime Minister, Minister and Generals,

Re: Reprisals against human rights defenders, Mr. Somchai Homlaor, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Ms. Anchana Heemmina

I am writing on behalf of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of lawyers and other human rights defenders who promote human rights and the rule of law through advocacy, education and research. LRWC advocates for human rights defenders threatened as a result of their human rights work. LRWC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN).

LRWC is seriously concerned about reports that on 17 May 2016, Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 filed a criminal complaint in Yala against three human rights defenders: Mr. Somchai Homlaor, lawyer, Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand and President of the Cross Cultural Foundation; Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation; and Ms. Anchana Heemmina, President of Duay Jai Group (Hearty Support Group), a human rights organization based in Thailand’s Deep South region. The criminal complaint accuses these three human rights defenders of criminal defamation under the Criminal Code and spreading false information under the Computer Crimes Act. The charges are based on and were laid after the release of Torture and ill treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015, a report co-edited by the three. The report documents 54 cases in which Thai security personnel allegedly tortured and ill-treated ethnic Malay Muslim insurgent suspects in Thailand’s Deep South between 2014 and 2015.

As production of the report received funding from the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, the three human rights defenders are considered “individuals who cooperate with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of Human Rights.” As a member of the United Nations, Thailand is obligated to “prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation or reprisal” against such persons.

Thailand is obligated to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment, without fear of reprisals or judicial harassment. The right to file complaints about torture and mistreatment and to have the complaint promptly and impartially investigated is ensured under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Thailand ratified in 2007, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by consensus by the General Assembly of the UN on December 9, 1998, especially Article 12.2, provides that the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.

Thailand’s responses to the May 2016 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council have signalled a commitment to protect human rights defenders. Specifically, Thailand formally accepted the recommendations from Member States to stop all forms of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, to ensure the internationally protected rights of human rights defenders are properly respected, and to protect human rights defenders in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Thailand also accepted the recommendation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 2006, ensure that all laws are brought into conformity with the treaty, and adopt a definition of torture as a specific offence in Thai legislation. In addition, Thailand’s delegation at its UPR in May 2016 advised that the Ministry of Justice Rights and Liberties Protection Department has established a working group to develop measures to protect human rights defenders whose human rights are at risk of being violated.

LRWC calls upon the Government of Thailand to:

Ensure that the criminal complaints under the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act against Mr. Somchai Homlaor, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Ms. Anchana Heemmina are immediately and unconditionally withdrawn; and, prevent and refrain from any further reprisals against Mr. Somchai Homlaor, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Ms. Anchana Heemmina for work related to the production of Torture and ill treatment in The Deep South Documented in 2014-2015; cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights; and, peaceful human rights advocacy.

We look forward to your urgent response.

Sincerely,
Gail Davidson
Executive Director, LRWC

International Commission of Jurists
27 July 2016

Thailand’s government should immediately stop allowing criminal defamation laws to be used to harass victims and human rights defenders who seek justice for alleged incidents of torture, the ICJ said today.

Yesterday, the government charged three human rights defenders (Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homloar and Anchana Heemina, photo) under the criminal defamation provisions of the Penal Code and the Computer Crime Act, for publication of a report that documented 54 cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment by the Thai authorities in the country’s restive deep South since 2004.

“Thailand must repeal or revise its vague and broad criminal defamation laws to prevent them from being used to silence human rights defenders and journalists working on important public interest issues,” said Wilder Tayler, the ICJ’s Secretary General.

“The imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment or large fines under these laws has a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression – a right which is enshrined in treaties to which Thailand is a party and bound to uphold,” he added.

Also yesterday, the government used the same provisions to charge Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, the niece of an army conscript who was killed after being severely punished by soldiers on a military base.

Although the Thai government has formally acknowledged that the death was caused by torture and compensated the family, none of the perpetrators have been held accountable for the death of Private Wichian Puaksom and have only faced military disciplinary sanctions of 30 days of detention or less, the ICJ reminds.

The case against Ms Kaewnopparat was brought by a military officer who alleges she accused him of being involved in her uncle’s death in the context of the family’s efforts to seek justice.

Last month, Thailand informed the Human Rights Council during its Universal Periodic Review that the Cabinet was considering a draft Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance.

It was reported that the Cabinet approved the draft law on 24 May 2016 and would forward it for approval to the National Legislative Assembly.

At the conclusion of the review, Thailand also adopted several recommendations to protect human rights defenders and investigate reported cases of intimidation, harassment and attacks against them.

“Prosecuting people who seek justice for alleged torture goes against the spirit of the proposed legislation,” Tayler said.

“Thai authorities have an obligation to investigate and ensure justice for incidents of torture, but instead they are harassing and intimidating those responsible for exposing these horrendous acts.”

On 17 December 2015, Thailand joined 127 other states at the UN General Assembly in adopting a UN Resolution on human rights defenders.

The Resolution calls upon states to refrain from intimidation or reprisals against human rights defenders.

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