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Thailand: Ongoing fears for safety of writers.

Thursday 24 July 2014 - 1:00am

London, 23 July 2014

Thailand: Ongoing fears for safety of writers.

Since the May 2014 coup, writers, academics and activists in Thailand are increasingly at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions, PEN International said today, highlighting the case of writer, human rights defender Thanapol Eawsakul, who was arrested for the second time on 5 July 2014 and held for four days.

Eawsakul, editor of the journal Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky), was  held by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for "attitude adjustment" over his social media postings. He was released without charge on 9 July 2014, but remains under close surveillance and risk of re-arrest.

The arrest of peaceful protestors, formal and informal summons of dissidents, arbitrary arrest and detention for "attitude adjustment," and widespread surveillance have become a common feature of social and political life in Thailand since the coup, and the NCPO has explicitly targeted dissident thinkers, academics, human rights defenders, journalists, and artists.

“Democracy and freedom of expression are at grave risk in Thailand,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. “In its ugly escalation of harassment, arbitrary arrests and widespread surveillance, the military junta signals increasing intolerance of criticism by journalists, academics, artists, indeed all citizens.”

PEN International is calling on the Thai authorities to release any writers currently held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and to stop harassing others like Thanapol Eawsakul.

Thanapol Eawsakul is a prominent editor, writer, and human rights defender who is known for his work to create space for the voices of those marginalized and repressed in Thai society. According to sources close to the case, he and his magazine Fa Diew Kan have made a significant contribution to the climate for freedom of expression in Thailand over the past ten years.

This is the second time that Eawsakul has been arrested since the coup. He was first arrested during a peaceful protest one day after the coup, on 23 May 2014, and detained for seven days. Like all others released from detention by the NCPO, Thanapol was compelled to sign a statement agreeing to a number of conditions, including that he would not exercise his fundamental human rights to free expression or assembly, or leave country without permission of the junta. Thanapol’s account of his first period of detention can be read in English translation here.

Background

After nearly seven months of escalating political violence in Thailand, a military coup d’état led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha was declared on 22 May 2014. The coup has imposed martial law and a curfew, dissolved the Senate – the only remaining national government body with elected members – and taken on wide-ranging executive and legislative powers. Political gatherings have been banned and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has imposed strict censorship of the internet and control of the media. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, in the two months since the coup there have been severe restrictions placed on freedom of expression and political freedom, including ongoing formal and informal summons to report to the junta, extensive use of arbitrary detention, the activation of military courts to process dissidents, and the creation of a general climate of fear detrimental to human rights and the rule of law. Under the terms of martial law, which were put in place two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. People arrested can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased.

There is no official confirmation of the number of people to have been arrested since the coup. However, according to a report by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) published one month after the coup, at least 454 people were publicly summoned to report themselves in Bangkok, and at least 57 were informally summoned in the provinces. The penalty for not responding to the summons is possible processing within the military court system and a prison sentence of up to two years and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht (US$ 1300).

On 18 July 2014 a new edict, Announcement No. 97, came into force banning all media and social media users from disseminating the opinions of independent scholars, retired civil servants, and former court, judicial office, and independent organization employees in a manner that could "create conflicts, distort facts, confuse society or lead to violence," according to local reports.

The edict also prohibits any criticism of the ruling junta's policies, operations, and representatives and bans the publication or broadcast of any government agency information deemed confidential. Soldiers, provincial governors, and police officials are given discretionary powers to shut down any media outlets perceived of violating the order.

The edict replaces and expands on two previous junta announcements, Nos. 14 and 18, that warned the mainstream media and social media users against disseminating any information that could "incite conflict" or "cause problems" among the public. The new order also requires media outlets to broadcast any junta-ordered announcements or information.

Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which protects the right to legitimate free expression, and prohibits arbitrary arrest.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@pen-international.org