Thailand: End judicial harassment of human rights defenders

27.08.2014

The Royal Thai Army should immediately and unconditionally withdraw a spurious legal action against human rights defender Ms Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and her organisation Cross-Cultural Foundation, in association with their work to expose and promote accountability for torture, ISHR and other human rights groups said in a joint statement today.

(Geneva) – The Royal Thai Army should immediately and unconditionally withdraw a spurious legal action against human rights defender Ms Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and her organisation Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF), in association with their work to expose and promote accountability for torture, ISHR and other human rights groups said in a joint statement today.

CrCF, of which Ms Pornpen is the director, faces criminal charges of libel and defamation filed by the Army’s Task Force 41. Ms Pornpen and CrCF are accused of causing damage to the reputation of the Army by disseminating an open letter about a case of alleged torture in southern Thailand. Ms Pornpen received a warrant on 24 August 2014 summoning her to report to the Yala police station in the deep south of Thailand by 25 August 2014, which has now been postponed by some weeks.

'Cases of alleged torture should be met by the State with a prompt and independent investigation. Instead, the Royal Thai Army has responded by seeking to silence human rights defenders who document and expose such cases. Such a response is a clear violation of Thailand's obligations under the Convention against Torture and Ms Pornpen's rights under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

CrCF have worked diligently for years to document and pursue accountability for cases of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Thailand’s southern-most provinces, which have operated under martial law since 2004. This work has involved routine information dissemination, including through the media and other public spaces.

'CrCF plays a vital role in exposing torture and seeking redress and justice for victims. We denounce the Army's heavy-handed attempt to intimidate human rights defenders like Ms Porpen out of undertaking this vital work,' Mr Lynch said.

In addition to being concerned about this case, ISHR is also deeply concerned at what appears to be a systematic pattern of harassing human rights defenders through the use and abuse of laws to criminalise their work, together with the initiation of arbitrary and vexatious legal proceedings intended to hinder such work.

‘This is a clear case of judicial harassment against a human rights defender, and part of a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation against those in Thailand who seek accountability for human rights violations and abuses’ Mr Lynch said.  

‘The government of Thailand must recognize that the work of human rights defenders is vital to developing an inclusive, healthy and prosperous society. Targeting human rights defenders for their work constitutes a step backwards for democracy and development in the country,’ stressed Mr Lynch.

There are further ongoing concerns related to the alleged torture of human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained by the National Council for Peace and Order in the context of the 22 May 2014 coup in Thailand. ISHR urges the government of Thailand to ensure that all such allegations are promptly and independently investigated.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, ISHR on p.lynch@ishr.ch or + 41 76 708 4738

Photo: Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (Courtesy www.apt.ch)