Three prominent Thai activists have been assaulted since May 2019, human rights group Human Rights Watch said. It urged Thai authorities to “urgently and impartially” investigate the assaults.
“The Thai government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for what has befallen its own citizens, who, for speaking out, must pay a high price for the exercise of their fundamental right.
“It behooves the Thai authorities to pursue the perpetrators of the crimes committed against these activists and ensure justice is meted out,” said Southeast Asian Press Alliance Executive Director Tess Bacalla. She urged the Thai government to foster an environment where people can openly discuss public issues without threats to their well-being.
Thailand has been in the grip of the military junta since 2014, following the latter’s takeover of the civilian government. Following the national elections in March this year – the country’s first such political exercise since the Thai coup d’état five years ago – Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha has emerged as the new prime minister. Repression of freedom of expression and press freedom, alongside other fundamental rights, has been a hallmark of the government.
Activists Sirawith “New” Seritiwat, Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich, and Ekachai Hongkangwan have been physically assaulted for activities and pronouncements criticizing the military government.
- 2 June 2019: Five unidentified men on motorcycles hit Sirawith multiple times at a bus stop on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok at around 10 p.m. He sustained injuries on his head, face, arms, and torso. The attack occurred after Sirawith held a signature campaign urging the incoming senators not to support for another term military junta leader Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha.
- 25 May 2019: Six unidentified men on motorcycles knocked down Anurak while on his motorcycle then was hit several times with metal bars. The incident happened near his house in Samut Prakarn province, south of Bangkok. He sustained injuries on his head, face arms, and legs. The attack occurred a day after Anurak posted on his Facebook page that he would lead a protest against the selection of the speaker of the House of Representatives who allegedly was part of a conspiracy to help Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha remain in power.
- 13 May 2019: Four unidentified men beat Ekachai outside the Bangkok Criminal Court building, one of the several instances of attacks against him in the course of more than a year. Ekachai is known for being critical of the military government. (Thailand: No Arrests for Assault on Junta Critics)
Even Thai dissidents who have fled Thailand fear are not necessarily safe in another country in the region. Since December last year, six Thai exiles in Laos have disappeared under mysterious circumstances – “four are presumed dead while bodies of the other two were found in the Mekong River,” said Bangkok Post.
In its 2019 country report, HRW said at least 130 pro-democracy activists face illegal assembly or sedition charges in some cases in 2018 for demanding the junta’s promised election. Since 2014, at least 92 people have been charged with sedition.