Asean MP group urges end to political 'harassment'

Asean MP group urges end to political 'harassment'

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, flashes a three-finger salute to his supporters as he leaves a police station after hearing a sedition complaint filed by the army in Bangkok on April 6. (Reuters photo)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, flashes a three-finger salute to his supporters as he leaves a police station after hearing a sedition complaint filed by the army in Bangkok on April 6. (Reuters photo)

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have urged Thai authorities to end their "harassment" of Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and to refrain undermining anti-military parties in Parliament.

They mentioned in the statement issued on Monday at least two "apparently politically motivated" criminal cases over the past year against him. One of them is the accusation that he breached the election law involving media shareholding. 

“The Thai authorities’ pursuit of trumped-up criminal cases against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and other anti-military actors is a clear attempt to undermine critics of the junta. All charges against lawmakers, journalists, activists and others who have done nothing but express peaceful opinions must be dropped immediately,” said Charles Santiago, chair of APHR and a Malaysian MP.

Human rights activists have raised concerns about politicisation of the Constitutional Court, as seven of its nine judges were either appointed or had their terms extended during the junta’s rule.

“It is furthermore concerning that the case against Thanathorn was brought to the Court by the Election Commission before the EC had completed its own investigation into the case,” the statement said.

The Court is expected to rule within one month’s time on whether to fully strip him off his MP seat. If found criminally liable, he could be barred from entering politics for up to 20 years, while also facing a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine.

Regional lawmakers are also concerned that the junta used a range of repressive laws, including sedition charges and the Computer Crime Act, to target and silence critics.

Sedition cases in Thailand are tried in military courts that do not meet international standards of fairness and where cases often face severe delays, the statement said.

“In the context of the many politicised charges against Thanathorn, it is difficult not to see the Constitutional Court’s move as another attempt to silence a voice critical of the junta.

“For Thai people to have faith in their country’s democratic process, authorities must show that they respect the outcome of the recent vote. This means allowing those elected to take part in public life, no matter how ‘inconvenient’ their opinions are,” said Teddy Baguilat, APHR Board Member and MP in the Philippines.

Other politicians have also been targeted during the years of military rule, including Chaturon Chaisang, a member of APHR and former Education Minister, who was charged with two sedition counts after criticising military rule at separate press conferences in 2014 and in May 2018.

The harassment of Mr Thanathorn mirrors a worrying regional trend where authoritarian governments rely on legal books to undermine opposition lawmakers, according to the statement.

“Parliamentarians can play a crucial role in upholding and defending human rights, but only if they are allowed to act without restrictions and fear of reprisals. It is disturbing that governments across Southeast Asia seek to undermine opposition figures through threats, harassment and criminal charges,” said Eva Sundari, APHR board member and MP in Indonesia.


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