US envoy stands by criticism of arrest of activist's mother

US envoy stands by criticism of arrest of activist's mother

At the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Wednesday, Thailand was subjected to pointed questions about human and civil rights by many countries. (Video grabs from UN Webcast)
At the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Wednesday, Thailand was subjected to pointed questions about human and civil rights by many countries. (Video grabs from UN Webcast)

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai met US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies Thursday, a day after Washington condemned the arrest of an activist's mother over a lese majeste charge.

After the 90-minute meeting that Mr Davies had described earlier in the day via @VOANews as routine, he confirmed to reporters the word "condemn" was an interpretation of the media's, while Mr Don later said the word "concern" should have been used instead.

However, the US ambassador stood by what his colleagues said in Washington, reading a statement from his notes: "Let me just say for the record that the USA is troubled by the recent arrests in connection with online postings including the arrest of Patnaree Chankij, the mother of a political activist. This we believe conflicts with Thailand's commitment to freedom of expression. We believe it creates a climate of intimidation and self-censorship."

Ms Patnaree, the mother of anti-coup activist Sirawith Seritiwat, was charged with violating the lese-majeste law, for replying ja -- a non-committal acknowledgement -- to a private Facebook message reportedly critical of the royal family.

Ms Patnaree was released on 500,000-baht bail but still faces trial.

"We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection with online postings and the detention of Patnaree Chankij," US State Department's spokeswoman for East Asia and the Pacific, Katina Adams, said on Wednesday. "The arrest and harassment of activists and their family members raise serious concerns about Thailand's adherence to its international obligation to protect freedom of expression."

Ms Patnaree's arrest came as Thailand prepared to have its human rights record examined by the United Nations Human Rights Council, conducting the so-called Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

On Wednesday, several countries took the floor during the UPR session to decry the use of military courts to try civilians, restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, among other issues.

Following the review, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the 2014 coup restored public order. Foreign countries which raised concerns regarding Thailand's human rights failings have not seen the situation on the ground, he said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was asked Thursday by visitor Adm Dennis Blair, board chairman and CEO of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, why civilian cases are being processed by military courts.

Gen Prayut said military courts only serve as a temporary mechanism to support the government's mission to suppress particular crimes, including lese-majeste offences or acts that threaten national security. Military courts work in a similar way to civilian courts and no human rights violations were committed in the handling of civilian cases, he added.

Amnesty International urged the government to revoke Section 44 of the interim charter as well as the premier's ban on political gatherings, the 1941 Martial Act, and the 2005 Executive Decree for Public Administration in Emergency Situations.

Amnesty also urged Thailand to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearance and investigate past cases.


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