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 JaiGroup (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.
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.
- Ensure the implementations of recommendations it accepted during the recent UPR with regard to HRDs
You can see the full statement here in PDF.