Human rights defenders in Thailand face threats, physical assaults, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, and extrajudicial killings. HRDs most at risk include those working with migrants, particularly along the border with Burma, those who are fighting for economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights, and those working in the conflict zone of the three border provinces in Southern Thailand. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has documented 35 cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders between 2003 – 2012, approximately 30 of whom were HRDs working on ESC rights. Many of these cases have not been properly investigated by the authorities.
Freedom of expression is limited in particular by the use of the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste law (prohibiting the criticism of the royal family), which have been repeatedly used to target political activists, human rights defenders and other independent voices. Police have also responded violently to peaceful protests, using excessive force against local communities demonstrating peacefully against the construction of dams or oil pipelines. In several instances, police have arrested and charged a number of protesters and human rights defenders. Trade unionists have also been prosecuted because of their work and charged with organising illegal assemblies.
The situation is critical in southern Thailand, where violations against human rights organisations take place in a context of widespread impunity for the perpetrators – who are often government or military officials. Martial law remains in place in parts of the Southern border provinces. The emergency decree introduced in 2005 and still in force allows for persons to be held for 30 days without charge. HRDs in the South, particularly those working with the victims of the conflict, who are for the most part Muslim, report regular abuse of the law and emergency decrees and a general abuse of power by the authorities.