The global labor and human rights communities welcomed news that Thailand’s military on Tuesday withdrew criminal complaints against three human rights activists who recently documented torture in the country’s three southern provinces, and announced plans to work with human rights groups to further verify human rights violations and reduce their occurrence.
The charges proposed by Thailand’s public prosecutor against Somchai Hom La-or, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Anchana Heemmina on criminal defamation and computer crimes had carried a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment plus fines of up to 300,000 baht ($8,330).
Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) had filed a complaint against the three in May 2016, claiming the reputation of the army was damaged by allegations in, “Torture and Ill Treatment in Thailand’s Deep South,” a report published in February 2016 describing 54 cases of alleged torture by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army. The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Duay Jai Group, two human rights groups, published the report.
Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the ISOC, said the charges were dropped because they “want cooperation between NGOs and officials to be able to move forward in the future.”
ISOC says it will work with civil-society groups to verify reports about rights violations, reduce abuses using a new: ”joint committee” to verify accusations, and design mechanisms to prevent future abuses.
The global labor and human rights communities continue to urge the Thai government to amend the nation’s penal code to remove criminal penalties for defamation.
Hom La-or, a CrCF advisor, is founder and secretary-general of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Solidarity Center partner that focuses on migrant worker rights. He has actively defended human rights in Thailand for decades, since the start of the country’s modern human rights movement. In October 1973, while studying for a law degree from Thammasat University, Somchai Hom La-or became a leader in the mass student-led protests against the military dictatorship that had ruled the country for over a decade.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is director of CrCF, which assists marginalized communities, especially torture victims and their families in Southern Thailand, access justice. Anchana Heemmina is founder and director of Duay Jai Group (Hearty Support Group), and Patani Human Rights Organization Network.
“[W]e will not back down from exposing rights violations,” Somchai Hom La-or said last year after being charged with defamation. “For a conflict-ridden region like the deep south, we need to expose human rights violations to bring true peace.”