Thailand Urged to Drop Charges against Rights Defenders

The global labor and human rights communities are urging the government of Thailand to drop charges against three human rights defenders who recently released documentation of torture in the country’s three southern provinces, home to a Muslim and ethnic Malay majority.

A decision by Thailand’s public prosecutor on whether to prosecute Somchai Hom La-or, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Anchana Heemmina on criminal defamation and computer crimes is expected any day. The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment plus fines of up to 300,000 baht ($8,330).

The report, “Torture and Ill Treatment in Thailand’s Deep South,” published in February 2016, describes 54 cases of alleged torture by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army. The human rights nonprofits, Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Duay Jai Group published the report.

In May 2016, Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command filed a complaint against the three, claiming the reputation of the army was damaged by the allegations, and alleged the human rights activists had not cooperated with authorities to provide more information on the cases raised in the report.

“The charges are used to shut up human rights defenders, but we 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.”

The global labor and human rights communities are urging the Thai government to drop charges against the three and 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.