Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) has received an award from the Clooney Foundation for Justice for its work on behalf of democracy activists and others facing legal harassment and persecution.
TLHR was one of six individuals and organisations worldwide honoured at The Albies, named for Justice Albie Sachs for his seminal role in ending apartheid in South Africa. The awards were presented on Thursday night at a gala event in New York City organised by the foundation’s founders, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her actor husband George Clooney.
TLHR was named the winner of the Justice for Democracy Defenders Award for defending “thousands of students, activists and journalists who have been arrested under Thailand’s laws criminalising peaceful protest and speech — including insulting the monarchy”.
Sirikan “June” Charoensiri, the organisation’s co-founder, has faced multiple prosecutions herself. Her work on behalf of 14 pro-democracy student protesters arrested in June 2015 and charged with sedition by the military regime ultimately led to her facing the same charge.
In her acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, Ms Sirikan asked her audience rhetorically whether they were aware that speaking about the royal family or demanding democratic reform might land them in prison. “These implausible scenarios are all too real for us,” she said.
According to data from TLHR to Aug 31 this year, 1,925 people have been prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth protests in July 2020. At least 257 are facing lese-majeste charges under Section 112 and 130 have been charged with sedition under Section 116.
The Clooneys’ celebrity power drew a large number of prominent figures from the worlds of human rights, business, entertainment, fashion and technology to the awards ceremony.
“Courageous justice defenders around the world face grave dangers that cannot be eliminated overnight,” Amal and George Clooney said in a statement. “But what we can do, in addition to our foundation’s daily work, is shine a spotlight on the danger that these individuals are facing, raising the stakes for their persecutors.”
Actress Meryl Streep joins TLHR co-founder Sirikan Charoensiri (right) and Ann-Pawinee Chumsri, TLHR litigation manager, at The Albies in New York. (Photo: TLHR Facebook)