THAILAND’s junta government is spreading fear across the kingdom with its secret detention of dissidents, an international rights watchdog said Wednesday after the recent “disappearance” of a prominent lawyer known for criticising the monarchy.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded the government’s immediate disclosure of the whereabouts of Prawet Prapanukul who was reported missing since April 29 after security forces raided his home in Bangkok.
HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said the authorities have yet to acknowledge the lawyer’s arrest and detention, which has triggered concerns that he is a victim of yet another case of enforced disappearance.
“The Thai junta should urgently disclose Prawet’s whereabouts and release him if he hasn’t been charged with a credible offence,” he said in a statement.
“Secretly detaining rights lawyers, critics of the monarchy, and other dissidents has created a climate of fear in Thailand that is generating international outrage.”
According to Adams, officers from the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, together with soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and police from Bangkok’s Bang Khen Police Station, raided the lawyer’s house on the morning of April 29.
Prawet’s computers, hard drives, flash drives, mobile telephones, CDs containing political programs, and various political T-shirts were confiscated, an official receipt showed.
However, Adams said the authorities did not provide official notification of Prawet’s arrest or whether he was under state custody.
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The 57-year-old is a well-known human rights lawyer who provided legal assistance to members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) – also known as the “Red Shirts” – in cases related to the 2010 political confrontations.
He also served as legal counsel defending a critic of the monarchy, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, who was convicted under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws for insulting the monarchy.
HRW pointed out that since the May 2014 coup, the junta led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha who is now prime minister, has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and others accused of involvement in anti-junta protests and activities, supporting the deposed civilian government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Critics have also been detained and convicted of disrespecting or offending the monarchy.
“Contrary to the junta’s claims that military units always follow due process requirements when they arrest and detain someone, many detainees have reported that security personnel mistreated them during the arrest, locked them up incommunicado in military camps, and interrogated them without access to lawyers,” Adams said.
According to a Reuters report, a UN working group on enforced disappearances has recorded 82 such cases in Thailand since 1980, including that of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004 and Pholachi Rakchongcharoen, a human rights activist from the Karen minority, in 2014.
In March, the government dropped legislation to criminalise torture and disappearances after years of working on the Bill, leaving state employees unaccountable for serious crimes.
Torture is not a criminal offence in Thailand. Victims have won compensation in the past, but perpetrators cannot be prosecuted.
The lack of a law on disappearances leaves a legal loophole that means security officials who abduct people and kill them, imprison them or send them to a third country may never be brought to justice.
“The Thai junta’s pledges at the UN and other international forums to respect rights sound increasingly hollow,” Adams said.
“Concerned governments should press General Prayuth to end all arbitrary arrests, secret detentions, and enforced disappearances by releasing Prawet and all the others wrongfully held.”