THAILAND: Arbitrary interrogation under recent emergency regulations in Thailand

May 18, 2010

Language(s): English only

Fourteenth session, Agenda Item 4, General Debate

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

THAILAND: Arbitrary interrogation under recent emergency regulations in Thailand

1. The growing contention between the state and antigovernment protestors in Thailand has deepened into a full-scale crisis, with no clear resolution in view. During violence on 10 April 2010, at least 24 people were reported killed and over 800 wounded. After a month of continuing protests, the state decided to end the protests with force. Between 13 and 17 May 2010, the government has reported that at least 35 people have been killed, all civilians, and at least 232 wounded. Unofficial reports put the numbers much higher. Amidst claims by the Prime Minister that protestors are armed and fighting state forces, the army has used live ammunition against largely unarmed antigovernment protestors. In several parts of Bangkok, army snipers have reportedly used high-powered rifles to shoot at protestors.

2. Given these events and the Prime Minister�s avowed readiness to order any actions necessary to restore stability, the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) wishes warn the Human Rights Council (HRC) that a range of rights violations, many less visible than the violence in the streets, are possible.

3. The ALRC has noted the use, under emergency regulations recently imposed in Bangkok, of arbitrary orders for interrogation of civilians in army camps and other facilities. Such orders have over many decades been associated with gross and widespread human rights violations in Thailand. During the so-called �war on drugs?in 2003, many persons who were called to police stations under similarly arbitrary orders were subsequently murdered. To date in the south, where emergency regulations have been in force in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat since July 2005, armed forces likewise call persons for interrogation on vague pretexts that then result in detention and a gamut of human rights violations. In previous eras, notably the post-1976 period, such interrogation has often been a tool of repression. Therefore, the current use of this method of arbitrary interrogation is a cause for serious alarm.

4. Under the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in a State of Emergency (2005), the government decreed a State of Emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas on 7 April 2010. The Emergency Decree gives blanket powers to state actors to take a wide range of actions to resolve the State of Emergency, including making arrests, censoring the press, restricting movement and using armed force. On 13 May 2010, the State of Emergency was expanded to include another 17 provinces in northern, northeastern, and central Thailand.

5. In late April 2010, the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), an agency of nebulous identity that is being run out of an army base under the authority of the Internal Security Operations Command, used the Emergency Decree to arbitrarily order citizens identified as dissident, or potentially dissident, to �report?themselves and submit to questioning by the authorities. Orders to �report?cited the authority to do so as resultant from section 11(2) of the Decree, which pertains to the designation of a Serious State of Emergency, which is defined as a situation which �involves terrorism, use of force, harm to life, body or property, or there are reasonable grounds to believe that there exists acts of violence which affects the security of state, the safety of life, or property of the state or person, and there is a necessity to resolve the problem in an efficient and timely manner? Subsection 2 makes it possible for state actors �to issue a notification that a competent official shall have the power to summon any person to report to the competent official or to give an oral statement or submit any documents or evidence relevant to the emergency situation?

6. Orders for individuals to �report?began subsequent to the government�s announcement of the existence of a plan to topple the monarchy during the week of 26 April 2010. The institution of the monarchy is a highly contentious one in Thailand, and in both the language of the Emergency Decree and other state rhetoric, is linked explicitly to national security. In addition to alleging that such a plan existed, the government released a diagram of uncertain authorship showing the alleged involved parties; the alleged participants were wide-ranging, with specific individuals, including former Prime Ministers and academics named, as well as broad categories such as the antigovernment protest group.

7. The alleged existence of the plan was made both within the context of the current standoff and that of increased accusations and prosecutions of alleged crimes of lese-majesty throughout 2008, 2009, and 2010. Therefore, the government�s release of this diagram was a highly threatening action in an already extremely charged atmosphere.

8. On 27 April 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in his capacity as Director of the CRES, said concerning individuals and entities named in the diagram, that in any cases in which there was sufficient evidence then an arrest warrant would be issued. If it was necessary, orders forbidding these individuals from leaving Thailand would also be issued. Mr. Suthep did not explicate how much evidence would be sufficient for a warrant, how it would be procured, or if its existence would be made public.

9. Rather than officially arrest any of the persons named in the alleged plan, officials instead arbitrarily ordered persons to �report?to the 11th Army Infantry Regiment base, in Bangkok�s Bang Khen district. On 28 April 2010, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that 113 people had been summoned and 62 had reported. Another credible estimate suggested that the number had risen to over 200 by mid-May 2010.

10. While the government has at time of writing not issued any details on the total number of individuals ordered to �report?for questioning, how many did so, what their interrogations consisted of or other aspects of the process, the ALRC has drawn a rough picture from a variety of reports. Most individuals have received the written order the night before being required to go to the army base. Upon arrival at the base, they have typically been questioned individually. Most have been interrogated for 2-3 hours, although some sessions have lasted for up to 6 hours. Many of the questions have concerned acquaintances of the person being interrogated, and if the person knows Surichai Sae Dan, a protest leader, or are members of Red Siam, a protest organization. Some of those interrogated have reported being asked about the planned activities of the protest movement and lectured about the purported illegality of the protests. And although the interrogations have been conducted on the army base, the ALRC has learned that interrogators have come from a variety of government agencies, including regular police, the army, and the Department of Special Investigation, Ministry of Justice.

11. To take one specific case, on 2 May 2010, three students, including Mr. Anuthee Dejthevaporn, secretary general of the Student Federation of Thailand (SFT), Ms. Suluck Lamubol, a fourth-year history student at Chulalongkorn University and SFT executive committee member, and Mr. Sanat Noklek reported to the CRES as ordered. At a public seminar on May 5 they explained what had happened to them.

a. According to Ms. Suluck, six policemen had visited her house and told her that if she did not go, an official arrest warrant would be issued against her. She said that the students were not allowed to bring a lawyer with them, and according to a report on the independent media site Prachatai, they �were told not to worry as it was just for talks with police and there was no need for lawyers? They were questioned for five hours about their political commitments and acquaintances, without learning the identities of their interrogators.

b. Mr. Anuthee explained that two policeman came to his house, gave him the document ordering him to report the next morning, and told him that if he did not do so, an arrest warrant would be secured. Mr. Anuthee also claimed that he had been followed by Thai intelligence officers prior to this time. During his interrogation, he was asked about the protests, including how much money people were paid to attend.

c. Mr. Sanat was not at home when two policeman came to his house to present him with the order to report the next morning, and so his grandmother received it for him. The policemen harassed his grandmother, and told her that her grandson should not support the red-shirt protestors. He and the other students reported that the regular police, DSI, and army officers who interrogated them used a mixture of intimidation and attempted friendliness. At no point did they give any of the students any knowledge of what evidence had been collected against them or the reasons that they in particular had been called.

12. The arbitrary nature of these orders to �report?raise serious concerns about the risk of denial of liberty and abuse of state power in Thailand and point towards the possibility of further grave violations of human rights under the cover of the Emergency Decree and other analogous state security provisions in the near future. The orders, like those to the police during the war on drugs and those in the context of counterinsurgency in the south of the country, are a deliberate attempt by the authorities to place their actions outside the ordinary legal system, denying citizens opportunities to question the circumstances of their detention and interrogation and thereby denying them means of redress in accordance with article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

14. In closing, the ALRC draws the Council�s attention to the reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, warning that the rights under article 9 of the Covenant can be greatly endangered during states of emergency (A/HRC/7/4, 10 January 2008; A/HRC/13/30, 18 January 2010). In particular, it notes the Working Group�s concern about:

�the continuing tendency towards deprivation of liberty by States abusing states of emergency or derogation, invoking special powers specific to states of emergency without formal declaration, having recourse to military, special, or emergency courts, not observing the principle of proportionality between the severity of the measures taken and the situation concerned, and employing vague definitions of offences allegedly designed to protect State security and combat terrorism? (A/HRC/7/4, para. 59).

15. While cognizant of the severity of the political crisis in Bangkok and the challenges facing the Government of Thailand, the ALRC avers that ordering citizens to �report?to an army base for questioning represents a very real danger of further and more dramatic forms of human rights abuse in the country in the near future. The denial of the right of citizens to bring lawyers with them represents one such violation, and belies the government�s own claims to be operating according to law. Therefore, the ALRC calls for the Council to:

a. Strongly condemn the use of the Emergency Decree to arbitrarily order persons to �report?to government officials in Thailand.

b. Urge the government of Thailand to cease using this method of calling persons for interrogation and instead comply with the terms of ordinary domestic law, and match its international obligations under the ICCPR.

c. Call upon the government to reveal the circumstances under which it drew up the diagram of alleged plotters to overthrow the monarchy, and the evidence upon which it was based.

d. Request that the Government of Thailand cease imposing needless restrictions on the freedom of speech at this critical juncture in the country�s modern history, as without the free circulation of critical information, the risks that power will be used arbitrarily and in further violation of human rights are greatly exacerbated.

About ALRC

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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