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Emergency decree lifted but rights violations continue

Police disperse a Red Shirts rally in Bangkok in May 2010. Under the recently lifted emergency decree, public gatherings of more than five people were illegal
Police disperse a Red Shirts rally in Bangkok in May 2010. Under the recently lifted emergency decree, public gatherings of more than five people were illegal

Roland Dobbins/IRIN

Eight months after violent clashes between anti-government groups and state security forces, the Thai government has finally lifted the emergency decree on Bangkok and three nearby provinces, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) - but rights activists have little faith that much will change.

The state of emergency was imposed more than eight months ago in response to escalating violence by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), popularly known as the "Red Shirts", which left 91 dead and almost 2,000 injured, according to news reports.

The emergency decree allowed Thai authorities to impose curfews, ban public gatherings of more than five people, detain suspects without charge for 30 days and censor and ban media from disseminating news that "causes panic", say Human Rights Watch and SEAPA.

But IFEX members remain unconvinced by the lifting of the emergency laws.

Since the April violence, satellite television stations, online television channels, publications, community radio stations and more than 1,000 websites have been shut down, reports Human Rights Watch.

The government has other tools such as the Computer Crime Act to "prosecute those with different political views," the Thai Netizens Network told SEAPA. "Since its introduction in 2007 it has since become the legal basis for the arrest of several Internet users and the blocking of numerous websites in Thailand," says the network. For instance, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, executive director and moderator of the independent news website, is facing more than 50 years' imprisonment under the act for allegedly failing to take down comments on a web forum deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Plus, the conflict contributed to creating a lasting distrust between journalists and the public, says the Thai Journalists' Association (TJA). "Quite a number of people maintained the view that the media played a part in escalating the political conflict," explained TJA, preventing media from providing accurate reporting.

And despite the lifting of the decree, the government continues to penalise those who criticise it. Last month, a free media advocate, along with nine other civil society activists, was arrested for entering the premises of Parliament during a rally in 2006, reports SEAPA.

Supinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, and nine others were charged on 30 December for violating seven provisions of the penal code, the most serious being the "instigation of public unrest and violence against the state with the intention of undermining the key democratic institutions." If convicted of multiple offences, they could each face 20 years in jail.

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