Police filed charges against the Future Forward Party leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on December 16, for organizing a rally two days prior at Bangkok’s Pathumwan Intersection, that opposes government’s attempts to dissolve the party.
More than 10,000 people attended the rally, the biggest political gathering since the May 2014 military coup.
Human Rights Watch urged Thailand authorities to immediately drop all politically motivated charges against Thanathorn and all opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists who held peaceful rallies in Bangkok and other Thai provinces.
“The Thai government’s prosecution of opposition politicians and activists for holding peaceful protests shows how unwilling it is to ease its chokehold on fundamental freedoms,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s latest crackdown makes a mockery of his promises to restore democracy and respect for human rights in Thailand,” he said.
Thai authorities accused Thanathorn of holding a public assembly without permission under the Public Assembly Act and using loudspeakers without permission under the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.
In addition, Sonthiya Sawasdee of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party filed a police complaint against Thanathorn and other key members of the Future Forward Party under the Public Assembly Act for not notifying authorities of the rally and holding it within 150 meters of a royal residence.
He also accused the party’s leadership of committing sedition and showing disrespect toward the monarchy, which are both serious criminal offenses in Thailand.
In Chiang Mai province, the police brought charges against pro-democracy activists who opened a Facebook page called “Liberal Assembly of Chiang Mai University for Democracy,” which invited people to join a rally at Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai to coincide with the gathering in Bangkok.
The ban on a public assembly – imposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta – was lifted in December 2018. But more than 100 people in Bangkok and other provinces faced illegal assembly charges in 2019 under the arbitrary and overbroad language of the Public Assembly Act, and in some cases faced sedition charges, for holding peaceful rallies.
International human rights law, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has stated that those wishing to exercise their right to peaceful assembly should not be required to obtain permission. (Source: HRW)