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Annual Report Thailand
Amnesty International - May 24, 2012
Violence intensified in the internal armed conflict in southern Thailand, with insurgents increasingly targeting civilians and staging indiscriminate attacks in which civilians were killed. Security forces continued to torture and ill-treat detainees in the South. For the eighth consecutive year, no official was convicted of perpetrating human rights violations in the South, and none was prosecuted for deaths that occurred during the 2010 anti-government demonstrations. Authorities continued to persecute those peacefully expressing their opinion, primarily through the use of the lèse majeste law and Computer-related Crimes Act. Authorities tightened restrictions on asylum-seekers and refugees from Myanmar, particularly during massive flooding, and exploited migrant workers from neighbouring countries.
National elections in July resulted in Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, becoming Prime Minister, and her Puea Thai party winning an absolute majority in parliament. However, the party won no parliamentary seats from the country's three southern insurgency-wracked provinces, which experienced a spike in attacks and saw the death toll for the past eight years reach 5,000. The six-year-long political crisis continued, with election-related violence, and tension between the new government and the army later in the year. The Truth for Reconciliation Commission, set up in the aftermath of the April-May 2010 demonstrations, released its first two reports with recommendations.
In August, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons visited Thailand. In October, Thailand's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review.
Internal armed conflict
In keeping with past trends, the majority of those killed in the internal armed conflict in southern Thailand were civilians; more than half were Muslims. Insurgents increasingly used bombs and improvised explosive devices that targeted civilians or harmed them in indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks were partly designed to spread terror among the civilian population.
On 3 February, two insurgents slashed the throat of Abdullah Kaboh, a married Muslim man with six children, while he tapped rubber late at night in Pattani's Yarang district. On 4 February, also in Yarang, two insurgents on a motorcycle shot and killed Ruem Meesrisawad, aged 79, a Buddhist who was retired from his job as a state-supported practitioner of traditional medicine. The attack occurred mid-morning, within 100m of two groups of security force personnel. On 16 September in Sungai Kolok district, Narathiwat province, five Malaysian civilians including a child were killed, and at least 118 people were injured, when three bombs were detonated in a nightlife entertainment area within the course of 45 minutes. On 25 October, at least 11 bombs exploded in the central district of Yala province around the same time just after sunset, killing three people and wounding at least 65 others.
Security forces also continued to commit human rights violations in their counter-insurgency efforts.
In the wake of a January insurgent attack on a military installation in Narathiwat, authorities reportedly tortured or ill-treated at least nine suspects.
For the eighth consecutive year, no official or member of the Thai security forces in Thailand's three southernmost provinces was convicted of committing any offences involving human rights violations. This was due in part to Section 17 of the Emergency Decree, which remained in effect there (excepting one district) since July 2005. The decree provided immunity from prosecution to officials who commit such acts in the course of their duty. No one was brought to justice for the death of 85 Muslims at the hands of authorities in the Tak Bai district of Narathiwat province in October 2004; or the death in custody through torture of imam Yapha Kaseng in March 2008 in Narathiwat.
The Department of Special Investigation concluded that security forces were responsible for at least 16 deaths during the April-May 2010 anti-government demonstrations. Their cases were sent to the Office of the Attorney General to consider a submission to a court for inquest. No one was charged with those or any of the other 76 deaths.
On 10 August, a court in Narathiwat sentenced Sudi-Rueman Mah-Leh to two years in prison for providing false information to officials inquiring into a case he had filed against a police officer who had allegedly tortured him. His conviction was based on the fact that the police officer and five of his colleagues were acquitted.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression continued to be suppressed, primarily through the lèse majeste law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code), the Computer-related Crimes Act, and intimidation of the media. Most of those detained, charged, and/or sentenced under the laws were prisoners of conscience. On 1 December, the government inaugurated the Cyber Security Operation Centre to suppress cyber crimes, particularly offences against the monarchy committed on social media websites.
Refugees and migrants
On 10 March, Ekkachai Hongkangvarn was charged under the lèse majeste law for selling DVDs of an Australian documentary about Thailand's monarchy and translated copies of Wikileaks cables on Thailand. He was released on bail. On 15 March, Thanthawuthi Thaweewarodom, designer of norporchorusa.com, was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the lèse majeste law and three more years under the Computer-related Crimes Act, for comments on the website deemed critical of the monarchy that he had either posted or not removed. He remained in custody. On 8 December, Joe Gordon (aka Lerpong Wichaikhammat), a dual US-Thai national, was sentenced to five years in prison (later reduced by half) on lèse majeste charges for allegedly owning a blog that linked to a Thai-language version of a book banned in Thailand. He committed the alleged offence while in the USA. In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that the closed trial of lèse majeste defendant Darunee Charnchaoengsilpakul, held in 2009, "did not in any way restrict the rights of the defendant in a criminal case". Sentenced to 18 years in 2009, she was re-sentenced to 15 years in December. On 23 November, a criminal court sentenced Ampon Tangnoppakul, a 61-year-old man with throat cancer, to 20 years in prison under the lèse majeste law and Computer-related Crimes Act. Although he claimed that he did not know how to send SMS messages, he was found guilty of sending four deemed insulting to a member of the royal family.
Following statements earlier in the year by the National Security Council's Secretary-General and the governor of Tak province, indicating that refugees from Myanmar would be repatriated, the Thai government pledged during its Universal Periodic Review to uphold its international obligation not to return people to countries where they faced persecution.
Thailand's refugee population grew, and third-country resettlement continued. By the end of the year, nearly 150,000 refugees lived in nine camps on the Myanmar border. However, for the fifth consecutive year, the government did not activate its procedure for screening asylum-seekers, so nearly half the camp-based population was unregistered. Authorities discouraged aid organizations from providing food and other humanitarian assistance to this population. Asylum-seekers continued to be arrested, detained indefinitely, and deported or repatriated to countries where they were at risk of persecution.
In June, immigration authorities for the first time allowed the release on bail of 96 refugees, all Ahmadis from Pakistan, from Bangkok's Immigration Detention Centre. In July, migrant workers in the fishing industry were given until August to register their names and employers with the authorities. Migrants in other industries had to register by July. The registration programme was launched in a bid to fight exploitation by human traffickers and employers. In December, authorities forcibly handed over a UNHCR-registered refugee, Ka Yang, and his family to Laotian officials at the Thai-Lao border in Ubon Ratchathani province. He had been accepted by the USA for resettlement on 24 December 2009, but was among the 158 refugees Thailand forced back to Laos that same day. Ka Yang subsequently fled Laos and returned to Thailand.
During extensive flooding in Thailand beginning in August, immigration authorities and police arrested, deported, and extorted money from many migrants who lost their documentation in the floods or whose employers had withheld it. Migrant workers who returned to the borders without passports were often intercepted at immigration checkpoints, and in the case of workers from Myanmar especially, arrested and detained. Deportation – sometimes at night – generally followed, during which some were extorted of funds either directly by Thai authorities or with their knowledge.
In November, the government set up at least one shelter for migrants in response to reports that they were being turned away from general shelters.
There were no known executions. However, Thai courts handed down 40 death sentences in 2011, a modest drop from the average of approximately one per week over the past several years. Death row prisoners continued to be shackled in leg irons throughout their detention, despite a 2009 court decision, still under appeal, declaring it illegal.
Ikeda Kengo, a Japanese national who was sentenced to death in March 2009, remained on death row, despite either not having a lawyer or not being aware that he had one. Thai law requires a court-appointed lawyer in capital cases for those who are without legal representation.
“They took nothing but his life”: Unlawful killings in Thailand’s southern insurgency
Amnesty International delegates visited Thailand in September.