Female rights staff 'need protection'
Activists are calling on the government to give better protection to female human rights defenders.
"The number of female rights advocates being hit with lawsuits has risen during the past four years," Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, told a seminar on human rights.
More than 170 female human rights advocates in Thailand were sued between 2014 and 2017, according to Protection International, a Belgium-based non-profit organisation.
They were sued by state agencies and private companies for launching campaigns protecting natural resources and community rights.
"We have raised the issue with the government before, and we haven't seen any change. In addition, online harassment and hate speech against female advocates are on the rise. There are more and more smear campaigns as well as sexual harassment against these women, " Mrs Angkhana said in the public discussion titled "From the UN Report to Guidelines to Protect Human Rights Defenders in Thailand", organised by Amnesty International Thailand.
The event was to mark the UN's International Women Human Rights Defenders Day this Thursday and the 20th Anniversary of the UN's Declaration on Human Rights Defenders that falls on Dec 9.
Anchana Heemmina, founder of the Hearty Support Group, a civic group assisting families of victims killed in the southern violence, told the forum that officials visited her home, made threats and tried to discredit her after she had investigated human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by state security personnel.
According to Ms Anchana, some of the cases she has worked on involved officials accused of torture, or even extrajudicial killings, and led to her being sued for defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act for speaking out.
"I want to see a change of perspective and for people to embrace and respect each other. We want equality and mutual respect," she told the forum.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International Thailand will submit a letter of petition demanding the government instruct its agencies to protect female rights advocates.