The arrest of nine Thai pro-democracy activists over their participation this month in a protest demanding the release of 32 other activists shows that the authorities remain committed to suppressing all political dissent, rights observers say.
The nine activists were taken on Aug. 8 to a police station on the outskirts of Bangkok where a security fence made with razor wire was erected to deny entrance to observers, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which posted about the incident on Twitter.
The activists are facing charges for their role in a rally outside the headquarters of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 unit on Aug. 2 following the detention of 32 pro-democracy activists the same day.
The 32 activists were detained by police during a “car mob,” a motorized protest rally, in which demonstrators, most of whom were teenagers and young Thais in their early 20s, demanded that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha resign over his administration’s mishandling of an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
During the mass arrest, riot police officers used excessive force, causing two women to faint and require treatment in hospital, witnesses said. Among the detainees was a 17-year-old boy, they added.
Over the past year there have been numerous youth-led street rallies calling for political reform in a country whose autocratic military-allied government is led by Prayut, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014 as the head of a junta.
Prayut’s government has responded by seeking to suppress the protests through heavy-handed riot control tactics
The young protesters have been demanding a return to democracy, including the resignation of Prayut, the scrapping of a military-drafted constitution which they see as deeply undemocratic and, more controversially, the imposition of curbs on the royal family’s influence.
Prayut’s government has responded by seeking to suppress the protests through heavy-handed riot control tactics, including the use of rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas fired at peaceful protesters whose ranks included minors and young women.
Thai authorities have also engaged in extensive “lawfare,” according to rights advocates, by charging scores of young protesters, including several minors, with various crimes such as sedition and royal defamation. If convicted, the accused could be sentenced to decades in prison.
Frequently the authorities resort to the use of a prolonged emergency decree, which was issued by Prayut last year to tackle the Covid-19 health crisis and imposes severe limits on citizens.
“The government misused the Covid-19 emergency measures to clamp down on freedom of expression and of media, especially criticism of the government response to the pandemic,” Human Rights Watch explained in its latest country report on Thailand.
Even as it has sought to quell all public protests, Prayut’s government has also been increasingly policing cyberspace with the aim of stamping out criticism through the use of the country’s draconian Computer Crime Act and other laws, rights activists say.
“The Thai authorities have enforced these laws to impose criminal sanctions against individuals they accused of spreading fake news and those they have sought to prosecute solely for expressing views critical of the government,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement released last week.
This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.