Protest arrests set "dangerous precedent", military regime must show restraint

The new Thai military regime has imposed harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly that should be repealed immediately, Amnesty International said as the army dispersed a peaceful protest today and reportedly arrested at least three people.

The organization also urges the military regime to immediately clarify the whereabouts of scores of political leaders reported to be detained in unknown locations, and allow them access to lawyers.

Hundreds of people gathered in central Bangkok today to demand a return to civilian rule, before soldiers dispersed the protest in the evening local time after it had carried on for several hours. At least three demonstrators were reportedly arrested.

“If soldiers are arresting peaceful protesters then this is a dangerous precedent – people simply expressing opinions must not be penalized. The need for the military to exercise restraint is particularly crucial given that demonstrations calling for civilian rule could intensify,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

“Maintaining public order cannot be an excuse for violating human rights.”

Thailand’s military has suspended the country’s constitution apart from sections relating to the monarchy, banned gatherings of more than five people and forbidden reporting - including on social media - critical of the military and martial law.

More than 150 prominent figures, including leading politicians, have been banned from leaving the country. Dozens, including the recently ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, are reported to have been detained in the last two days, and their whereabouts are unknown.

“It is deeply worrying that the military has moved to detain political leaders. The regime must immediately clarify a legal basis for this move and where they are. No-one should be detained on the basis for their peaceful political opinions or affiliations,” said Richard Bennett.

“They should either be released or charged with a recognizably criminal offence, then remanded by an independent, civilian court.”

Clear instructions must be given to security forces that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment must not be carried out, and that any personnel suspected of such violations will be brought to justice.