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Increased Risks for Activists Charged with Insulting Royalty in Thailand

A human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and a protest leader, Parit
Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and protest leader, Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak. Bangkok, Thailand, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

The recent arrest of young protest leaders in Thailand, including Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa, is part of an increasingly violent crackdown on activists, many of whose trials are being monitored by the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch initiative.

The Thai authorities have kept several activists – including Mr Chiwarak and Mr. Nampa – in detention rather than releasing them on bail on the basis that they might commit further so-called offences, such as protesting, if they were to be released. This is part of a familiar pattern employed by the authorities who are using bail procedures to pressure protesters into silence and suppress free speech and protest in the country. Furthermore, it’s believed Parit Chiwarak and three activists have contracted Covid-19 since being held in detention.

There are also serious concerns regarding the defendants’ treatment by the police, as recounted by one of their lawyers.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), who CFJ is working with to document these cases, between November 2020 and August 13, 2021, at least 117 individuals have been charged with “lese-majeste” – or insulting the royal family – which carries a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison. In the same period, more than 800 people have been criminally prosecuted for political expression and peaceful assemblies, including at least 70 minors.

“The legal proceedings in these cases are not fair and transparent. Rather their aim is to pressure defense lawyers and activists not to fight further in court,” said Sirikan Charoensiri, lawyer at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. “The authorities are trying to return these activists to overcrowded prisons without justification in a bid to silence them. I am extremely concerned about their conditions, particularly because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in prisons across the country.”

The Clooney Foundation for Justice calls on the Thai authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and to a fair trial. CFJ further calls for the release of those facing charges of insulting royalty.