Annual Report: Thailand 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Thailand 2011

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Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Head of government: Abhisit Vejjajiva
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 68.1 million
Life expectancy: 69.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 13/8 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 93.5 per cent

Official censorship of websites, radio and television stations, and print publications was tightened as freedom of expression remained restricted. Violence continued in the internal armed conflict in southern Thailand, with security forces subjecting suspects to torture and other ill-treatment, and members of Muslim armed groups attacking civilians, particularly teachers. Anti-government protests in Bangkok and several other provinces were characterized by excessive use of force by security forces, violent acts by some protesters, and the detention of several hundred prisoners. An Emergency Decree containing many provisions that contravened international human rights law and standards was in effect in Bangkok for almost eight months. Migrant workers with irregular status in Thailand faced a range of human rights abuses and, along with refugees, were forcibly returned to Myanmar.

Background

A political crisis polarized Thai society for a fifth consecutive year, spiking sharply after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in a 2006 coup and in self-imposed exile, was convicted in his absence by a court in Bangkok in late February on corruption charges. Mid-March through late May saw increasingly violent anti-government protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, partly affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra. More than 90 people were killed, at least 2,000 others were injured, and 37 buildings in Bangkok were burned down. The government invoked the Internal Security Act in March and the Emergency Decree in April; the latter remained in place in Bangkok and three other provinces until almost the end of the year. In the aftermath of the violence, the government established several bodies for national reform and a Truth for Reconciliation Commission.

The internal armed conflict in southern Thailand continued, reaching a death toll of 4,500 since 2004. In November, Thailand experienced its largest single influx of refugees in 25 years when at least 20,000 refugees fled fighting across the Myanmar border.

Political violence

Between 10 April and 19 May, 74 protesters or passers-by, 11 members of the security forces, four medics and two journalists were killed during sometimes violent anti-government protests in Bangkok and elsewhere. The security forces used excessive force, including lethal use of firearms and "live fire zones", which killed several unarmed protesters and bystanders. Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a leader of the demonstrators' defences, was shot and killed by a sniper on 13 May. Some protesters and elements seemingly aligned with them were also armed and used lethal force against the security forces. The government detained over 450 people in the wake of the protests, approximately 180 of whom remained in detention or on bail pending trial at the end of the year. Some were charged with terrorism.

Freedom of expression

The government clamped down on freedom of expression, mainly through the Emergency Decree, the lèse majesté law, and the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act.

  • In October, Amornwan Charoenkij was arrested under the Emergency Decree in Ayutthaya province - despite the Decree not being in effect there - for selling slippers featuring the Prime Minister's face and a message referring to the 91 dead from the May violence.

The Emergency Decree authorized the newly established Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) to censor websites, radio and television stations, and printed publications without a court warrant. During each of the last three weeks of May, as violence during anti-government protests peaked, the CRES announced that it had censored 770, 1,150 and 1,900 websites, respectively. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology announced in June that it had blocked access in Thailand to 43,908 websites on grounds that they violated the lèse majesté law and national security.