By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — If you thought 2015 was a bad year for human rights in Thailand, brace yourself for some bad news.
In 2016 violations of human rights could get worse as more people are expected to challenge the military regime of General Prayuth Chan-ocha, according to predictions from human rights activists and critics of the military junta.
“Personally speaking I am not sure if things will improve. I think there will be increasing retaliation from ordinary citizens,” said National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, explaining that more people are likely to try to exercise their political rights as the military regime continues to stay in power.
Rangsiman Rome, an anti-coup activist who is a key member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM), was detained and briefly imprisoned along with 13 other members last June for violating the junta’s ban on political assembly. He thinks Thailand’s human rights situation can sink even further this year.
“We haven’t reached the lowest point yet. Things could turn even worse than they already are,” Rangsiman told Khaosod English.
He added that suspicious deaths under military detention of two high-profile prisoners and the loosely-interpreted use of the draconian lese majeste law bode ill for the next 12 months under the National Council for Peace and Order, the formal name of the military regime.
“I expect more human rights violations in 2016. The junta will feel less secure and those who used to support the NCPO will increasingly become uncertain,” he said, in reference to economic stagnation and corruption allegations against some of the key junta members.
“The NCPO will likely insist that the country will disintegrate without them, however,” said Rangsiman, who vowed that the NDM will continue to try to oust the junta and act as de facto opposition.
For human rights lawyer Yaowalak Anuphan, head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, her outlook for 2016 is also bleak.
“We didn’t expect to see that many arrests last year along with the use of laws beyond their stated intentions,” she explained. “I don’t see any positive signs for 2016. The situation will be the same if not worse.”
On the other hand, Mahidol University conflict-resolution expert Gothom Arya thinks it’s difficult to predict the situation in the next 12 months due to many uncertain factors. Nevertheless, Gothom said the economy in 2016 will affect the situation, adding that the prospects are rather gloomy.
What’s more, said Gothom, as the junta enters its second full calendar year in power since it staged the coup in May 2014, the chance of the NCPO abusing its power is greater because absolute power tends to corrupts absolutely.
“The prospect is that more will be forced to do what the junta wants. The temptation to abuse such power is there.”
Wishlist for 2016
Interviewees highlighted freedom of political expression as a top cause for concern in 2016 as the military regime continues its crackdown on dissent.
“Voicing [certain] truths is not possible,” explained Angkhana.
“We’re living in a surreal situation where there’s no standard in the application of laws,” Rangsiman said.
He also notes that lese majeste law has been so broadly interpreted that it was used last December to prosecute a man for making alleged sarcastic remarksagainst Khun Thongdaeng, a royal dog of His Majesty the King.
Rangsiman said he will not make any proposals or requests to the junta, since NDM regards the military regime as illegitimate.
As for Yaowalak, she’s concerned not just about freedom of expression with the growing use of the lese majeste law but also about the use of military detention and military court against civilians. She urged the junta to do away with both immediately, as well as to stop using absolute power under Article 44 of the junta’s provisional charter.
Gothom meanwhile said besides the issue of freedom of expression, he’s most concerned with rural villagers’ rights, particularly communities facing forced eviction from contested forest areas.
“Many poor people are being affected”, said Gothom.
Gothom also said he expects to see more propaganda by the military junta fed through various media in 2016.
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