#WhatsHappeningInThailand: Government crackdown on the right to protest

In August, #WhatsHappeningInThailand began trending on Twitter. The hashtag was pushed by a new generation of Thai activists calling for the world to pay attention to their demands for freedom and democratic reforms. Young Thais also wanted the online community to bear witness to the government’s response.

Throughout 2020, a youth-led protest movement has gathered momentum in Thailand. The protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets to demand a new constitution, a new government, and an end to the harassment and intimidation of government critics. Activists have also risked their own safety and liberty by calling for reform of the monarchy, an institution protected by laws carrying severe criminal penalties.

The protesters’ complaints about the government’s anti-democratic nature have been underscored by the authorities’ response to the protests. The government has harassed and obstructed protest organisers at every turn. At least 173 individuals have been charged because of their role in protests this year. Security forces have harassed and intimidated protest organisers and participants, at times visiting them at their homes and schools. The government exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to enact repressive emergency measures, which have been used to charge peaceful protesters and online critics.

In September and October, as tens of thousands of Thais regularly gathered in Bangkok and other provinces, the government escalated its crackdown. Riot police forcefully dispersed protesters with the assistance of water cannons; security forces sought to deny access to protest sites; and authorities shut down transportation networks to prevent crowds from gathering. The government also increasingly attempted to assert control over the narrative surrounding the movement, pressuring social media platforms to block critical content and taking legal action against independent media outlets reporting on the protests.

Despite these attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms, the protest movement continues to grow stronger.

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This briefing describes human rights violations associated with the Thai government’s response to the 2020 youth-led protest movement. It reflects developments through 22 October 2020. The briefing draws from media reporting, official documents, and other publicly-available information, as well as the records of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which is providing legal representation to many of the individuals facing charges because of their protest activities. It analyses the actions of the Thai authorities against international human rights law and standards and makes recommendations to the government.