• Press Release

Thailand: Drop Groundless Charges Against Youth Activists

April 29, 2024

Amnesty International

Two young Thai activists were today indicted on ‘groundless’ royal defamation and computer crime charges, Amnesty International has said.

Niraphorn “Bie” Onnkhaow, an Amnesty International Digital Rights Champion who recently engaged with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, a prominent protest leader featured in Amnesty International’s 2021 Write for Rights campaign, were today indicted under the charges of lèse-majesté and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.

“Today’s indictment shows that Thai authorities are continuing to weaponize spurious charges to silence critical voices of young people who want to speak about their human rights,” said Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong.

“The decision to indict Bie only one month after she travelled to Geneva to share her experience as a young activist and human rights defender in Thailand sends a chilling message that speaking out on human rights violations will not be tolerated.”

On March 12, 2024 in Geneva, Bie spoke during the Inter-active Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. She expressed concern over Thai authorities’ misuse of the criminal justice system to stifle freedom of expression and the use of digital surveillance against children and young human rights defenders in Thailand.

She also spoke at a side event on 13 March alongside other child and youth defenders to mark the release of a report by the Special Rapporteur, who had recognized the role of young human rights defenders in Thailand in peacefully protesting for reforms since 2020.

Charges against Bie and Rung were originally pressed in November 2021 but the public prosecutor only recently decided to proceed with the indictments.

Both Bie and Rung are part of the student-led protest group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) and are vocal on freedom of expression, digital rights and gender equality. 

Authorities allege that the two youth activists are administrators of the Facebook page of the UFTD. The charges against them stem from accusations that they made three posts on the page that were considered as being defamatory towards the monarchy.

Amnesty International has further documented that both women human rights defenders have been subjected to digital surveillance.

According to civil society-led forensic research, Bie and Rung were among 35 human rights defenders (HRDs), activists, academics and artists targeted with Pegasus, a highly invasive spyware developed by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.

Bie’s mobile device was infected 14 times in 2021 – the highest number of infections documented among all the targeted individuals. Meanwhile, Rung’s device was infected four times in the same year.

Earlier in 2024, Bie was selected as one of Amnesty International’s Digital Rights Champions, a group of children and young leaders from across the globe with an interest and expertise in digital rights.

“This indictment decision will likely intensify the chilling effect that leaves Thai human rights defenders and activists afraid to speak up on human rights issues,” Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said.

“This is a reminder that Thailand needs to step up its efforts to meet its international human rights obligations, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We urge the Thai authorities to immediately drop charges against these activists.” 

Thailand is currently seeking membership in the UN Human Rights Council, whose members have a responsibility to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

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