Amnesty, ICJ welcome prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against human rights activists

Prosecutor formally ends the criminal defamation case against three human rights activists for publishing a report about torture and ill-treatment by authority in the deep South.

The three activists are  Amnesty International Thailand chairperson Pornpen Khongkachonkiet; Cross-Cultural Foundation advisor Somchai Homla-or; and Anchana Heemmina, co-founder of Duay Jai (Hearty Support) Group.

In February 2016, Cross-Cultural Foundation and Duay Jai (Hearty Support) Group published a joint report documenting 54 cases of torture and other ill-treatment by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army in Thailand’s southern provinces.

On May 17, 2016, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4, which is responsible for security operations in the area, initiated criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against the three human rights defenders, who edited the report.

Following campaign by international and local human rights movement, the Isoc announced in March this year that they would withdraw the charges and on Oct 24, the Pattani Provincial Prosecutor decided to end the prosecution of the three for criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act.

Responding to news that the prosecutor has formally ended the criminal defamation case against the trio, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said: “While it is heartening that the charges against three brave human rights defenders have finally been dropped, the fact is they should never have been brought in the first place.”

“Thailand needs to take seriously its responsibility to create an environment in which human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of retaliation. All charges must be dropped against those who are imprisoned or facing criminal proceedings merely for exercising their human rights peacefully,” Mr Gomez said.

“Even if a case does not go to trial, the filing of criminal complaints and charges are a potent form of harassment that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” he said.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also welcomed the prosecutor’s decision to end the criminal prosecution of three human rights defenders.

“While we welcome the decision to end these prosecutions, they have already caused a tremendous amount of damage to complainants of serious human rights violations like torture and ill-treatment, civil society, and the local community in the deep South that must now be repaired,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.

“An important first step would be to pass legislation which criminalizes torture and ill-treatment and provides meaningful protections for those who wish to come forward with allegations of violations,” he added.