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UN Condemns Growing Repression in Thailand

Protest leaders wearing crop tops and showing the three-finger salute, pose in front of Thailand's Princess Sirivannavari fashion boutique at Siam Paragon shopping center, as they protest against the monarchy, in Bangkok, Dec. 20, 2020.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is expressing alarm at the growing repression and clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly in Thailand.

In recent weeks, Thai authorities have charged at least 35 protesters, including a 16-year-old student, with defaming the country’s royal family. A spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said the juvenile’s arrest is particularly alarming.

She said the young boy was arrested on so-called lese majeste charges after participating in a fashion show mocking the royal family’s fashion style. Lese majeste is a provision of Thailand’s criminal code, that carries sentences of between three and 15 years’ imprisonment for defaming, insulting or threatening the country’s royal family.

Shamdasani said the fashion show was part of a student rally organized as part of mass protests that have been going on for the past four months. Protesters are calling for an overhaul of the government and military as well as reform of the monarchy.

Shamdasani said the students and young boy were just exercising their right of free expression.

“So, to use law, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment for this quote-unquote offense does not fit in with Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights with regards to the right of freedom of expression,” she said.

Spokeswoman Shamdasani said Thailand continues to ignore repeated calls from U.N. watchdog groups, including the U.N. Human Rights Committee, to bring its criminal law in line with the country’s international treaty obligations.

“It is extremely disappointing that after a period of two years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and, shockingly, now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offenses under the Computer Crime Act, she said.

Human Rights Watch has said the Act gives the government broad powers. The measure has been used to silence opposition to the government and monarchy.

The U.N.’s human rights office is calling on the government to stop filing criminal charges against people exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It says detaining people for exercising these rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention, which is prohibited under international human rights law.