Freedom of expression suffered a significant setback in 2009 with tens of thousands of Thai websites blocked for allegedly defaming the royal family, and a number of people arrested. The government made little progress in resolving the conflict in the deep south, which was rocked by violence throughout the year. Muslim insurgents raised the level of their brutality, targeting civilians as well as the security forces. Impunity for human rights violations by the authorities continued with no successful prosecutions for a sixth consecutive year. Refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar and Laos were forcibly returned to their countries of origin where they risked serious human rights abuses.
For the first time in eight years, the Democrat Party headed the new coalition government, remaining in power throughout 2009. The political conflict that polarized the nation in 2008 continued between the conservative and royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) which is loosely affiliated with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The authorities invoked Part II of the Act on Internal Security for the first time in April when demonstrations by the UDD resulted in violence as Thailand hosted an ASEAN summit. They did so five more times throughout the year, including in parts of the deep south, replacing Martial Law there. During the ASEAN summit the police fired live rounds, seriously injuring several people. The authorities then terminated the summit. Later that month, unknown assailants tried to assassinate PAD leader Sondi Limthongkul, firing more than 100 bullets in broad daylight.
An internal armed conflict in the deep south continued throughout the year, with the number of dead in the last six years totalling almost 4,000. The government’s various attempts to decrease the role of the military in policy and funding decisions did not reduce the violence. In June, six unknown assailants opened fire on the Al-Furquan mosque in Narathiwat province, killing 10 Muslim worshippers and seriously injuring 12 others.
Freedom of expression
In January, the Senate established a subcommittee to oversee legal action taken against those deemed to have violated the lèse-majesté law. This law prohibits any word or act which defames, insults or threatens the royal family. Also in January, the government created a website to enable citizens to report someone for purported violation of the law. Throughout the year, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, in co-operation with the Royal Thai Army, blocked tens of thousands of websites for allegedly breaching the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act by commenting on the monarchy. In March, police raided the office of online newspaper Prachatai, and briefly detained its director. Three people received prison terms of three to 18 years for violating the lèse-majesté law, bringing to four the total number of convictions in the past two years.
- On 3 April, a court sentenced Suwicha Thakhor to 10 years in prison for material he posted on his blog which was deemed to have defamed the monarchy.
- On 28 August, a court sentenced Darunee Chanchoengsilapakul to 18 years in prison for remarks she made at a rally in 2008.
In January, the Prime Minister called for an investigation into three incidents of ethnic minority Rohingyas being pushed back onto the high seas by Thai security forces (see below). However, no one was prosecuted. That same month, the Prime Minister publicly pledged to resolve the enforced disappearance case of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, but no progress was made or new prosecution initiated. In April, despite previous findings that Thai security forces used disproportionate force which killed 32 people in the Krue-Se mosque in 2004, and a post-mortem inquest identifying three ranking officers as responsible for the killings, the government announced that there would be no prosecutions. In May, a post-mortem inquest into the 2004 Tak Bai incident in which 78 people died in custody, failed to acknowledge the circumstances that caused their deaths and so discouraged any future prosecution. By the end of the year – one year after a post-mortem inquest determined that Yapha Kaseng died of blunt force trauma while in custody – the government had not begun a prosecution against security officials responsible for his torture and killing in the deep south.
Internal armed conflict
2009 saw a spike in the number and brutality of attacks in the deep south by Muslim insurgents targeting Thai security forces and civilians they deemed to be co-operating or collaborating with the authorities. Other attacks were indiscriminate, killing or injuring many. Insurgents beheaded at least eight people. Violence intensified during the holy month of Ramadan, with at least 32 attacks reported in which at least 35 people were killed and over 80 people injured.
- On 12 March, Laila Paaitae Daoh, a human rights defender, was shot and killed in broad daylight in Yala province. She was the fourth member of her family to be killed in the south and is survived only by her three young children.
- On 27 April, nine people were killed and two others injured in five separate attacks on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Krue-Se mosque incident.
- On 15 June, a rubber tapper in Yala province was stabbed to death before being beheaded. His body was later burned and left on the plantation, while his head was found impaled on a shovel close by.
- On 25 August, 20 people were injured when a car bomb exploded in Narathiwat province.
Refugees and migrants
In January, Thai authorities placed 200 ethnic minority Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladesh on a boat that had been stripped of its motor, and returned them to sea without a clear destination and with limited provisions. They had been detained on an island for several weeks previously and denied access to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. At least two people subsequently died. This brought the total number of refugees and migrants pushed back to sea in two months to approximately 1,200. Also in January, authorities intercepted another boat of 78 Rohingyas and detained them throughout the year. UNHCR was permitted to speak with them, but two people died, reportedly from lack of medical care.
Throughout the year, Thai authorities continued to return groups of Lao Hmong individuals, including asylum-seekers, from a camp in Phetchabun province amidst questions that returns were not voluntary. In late December, Thai authorities forcibly repatriated all of the Lao Hmong – around 4,500 – from Phetchabun, as well as 158 recognized refugees detained in Nong Khai province since November 2006. UNHCR had not been permitted access to the larger group, while all 158 had been recognized as refugees and accepted for resettlement by several countries, but denied departure from Thailand. Among them were 87 children, some born in detention.
A national verification process for migrant workers began in July. However, the Thai government did not publicize or explain the process to migrants, and officials and unofficial agents exploited migrants’ consequent lack of awareness for financial gain.
In August, the authorities executed via lethal injection two drug traffickers, Bundit Charoenwanich and Jirawat Phumpruek, in the first executions carried out in Thailand since 2003.