Bdap's arrest a litmus test
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Bdap's arrest a litmus test

As Thailand vies for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2025-2027 term -- something the previous Prayut government failed to do -- the arrest of Y Quynh Bdap, a Vietnamese political activist with UN refugee status, will serve as a litmus test for Thailand's human rights standards.

Bdap -- who has lived in Thailand since 2018 -- was arrested by Thai police on Tuesday after he met with staff of a Western country's embassy where he has applied for asylum. The activist has been wanted by the Hanoi government since last year. Despite living in Thailand, Bdap was accused of organising anti-government riots in Vietnam's central highlands province of Dak Lak last June -- a charge Bdap has sternly denied. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years' imprisonment.

After the arrest, Thailand's National Human Rights Commission issued an official statement on Thursday expressing great concern about his safety and whether he would be extradited. The NHRC's statement urged Thai officials to obey the nonrefoulement legal code in the 2022 Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act. The pro-human rights law has been effective since October last year.

Section 13 of this law stipulates that: "No state agency or state authority shall expel, return, or extradite a person to another State if there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or to enforced disappearance".

The arrest of political refugees like Bdap shows that the United Nations' refugee status card offers refugees little protection in Thailand. In recent years, political refugees have been apprehended and sent back to face justice in their own countries.

For example, two Cambodian politicians from an anti-government party were arrested in Thailand in 2021 and deported back to Cambodia at the request of the Phnom Penh government. In February of this year, local police arrested and subsequently freed two Cambodian political refugees ahead of new Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet's visit to the country.

Currently, Bdap is reported to be imprisoned in a Thai cell, and he faces being extradited to Vietnam to serve a jail term.

Bdap is not the only political activist who has been arrested for extradition in Thailand. His case reminds us of the footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who was arrested in Bangkok in 2018 on an extradition request by Bahrain. Granted asylum in Australia, Araibi was convicted in absentia in Bahrain for vandalism and sentenced to 10 years in prison. His case brought worldwide attention and prompted the Thai government to hold a court hearing, after which the footballer was released.

Six years later, Thailand has Section 13 in the 2022 Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act to deal with this case. This law took almost a decade to draft and deliberate over. So far, it has yet to show its teeth. The justice system needs to hear whether the trial in absentia against Bdap is fair. This case will set the tone for the safety of political refugees in Thailand in the future. Above all, it will show whether the non-refoulement rule in Thailand is sacred and has teeth.

PM Srettha Thavisin and the Royal Thai Police must not remain aloof. This case will again shine a glaring spotlight on Thailand's human rights record. Failing to handle it, the civilian government will spoil its HRC chances as the Prayut government did -- and this time, it will only have itself to blame.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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