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Authorities still using emergency powers to suppress free expression and other rights, says Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, September 23, 2010 - Five months after violent clashes between anti-government groups and state security forces, the Thai government still uses emergency powers to suppress fundamental human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

On April 7, 2010, in response to escalating violence by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and other parts of the country. The Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation ("Emergency Decree") allows Thai authorities to carry out extended detention of suspects without charge; deny information about those detained without charge; use unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody; and impose widespread censorship. While implementing the Emergency Decree, officials have effective immunity from prosecution for most acts they commit.

"If the Thai government has a legitimate reason to use the Emergency Decree, it should publicly justify it with hard facts," said Sophie Richardson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead the government continues to enforce the draconian emergency powers and violate basic rights."

The government extended the enforcement of the Emergency Decree on July 6 "to prevent possible violent or unlawful activities." Based on such vague justification, the Emergency Decree remains in effect in Bangkok and the provinces of Nonthaburi, Pathumthani, Samut Prakarn, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, and Nakhon Ratchasima.

The government has not put forward any justification for suspending certain human rights protections provided under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Thailand, which requires an emergency that "threatens the life of the nation" and says that the measures imposed must be "strictly required by the exigencies of the situation."

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The right to freedom of expression is essential for the functioning of democracy and guaranteeing other fundamental human rights, Human Rights Watch said. However, since April 7, the government has used the Emergency Decree to undermine media freedom and violate the right to free expression. The CRES has shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, newspapers, magazines, and community radio stations, most of which are considered closely aligned with the UDD. Human Rights Watch called on the government either to lift immediately the censorship and other restraints on the rights to freedom of expression of online and broadcast media, or to bring appropriate charges against the media operators for incitement of violence under the criminal code in accordance with international law.

"Thailand's ongoing restrictions on free expression through emergency powers are nothing less than a national regime of censorship, which obstructs prospects for lasting political reconciliation and the restoration of democracy," Richardson said.

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