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Surge in activist repression in Thailand: HRW

Its report revealed that Thai officials unlawfully deported asylum seekers and refugees without proper legal procedures
This handout photo from the Royal Thai Government taken and released on May 15 shows Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (right) walking with President of FIFA Gianni Infantino at a gala dinner ahead of the FIFA Congress in Bangkok.

This handout photo from the Royal Thai Government taken and released on May 15 shows Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (right) walking with President of FIFA Gianni Infantino at a gala dinner ahead of the FIFA Congress in Bangkok. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 16, 2024 05:33 AM GMT
Updated: May 16, 2024 05:39 AM GMT

Activists and dissidents seeking refuge in Thailand are being subjected to harassment, surveillance and physical violence, often with the cooperation of Thai authorities, Human Rights Watch said on May 16.

The New York-based rights group said there had been a surge in repression directed at foreign nationals in the kingdom in the past decade, with authorities trading foreign dissidents for critics of the Thai government living abroad.

The governments responsible include China, Bahrain and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, HRW said.

The report said that, in a number of cases, Thai officials arrested asylum seekers and refugees and deported them to their home countries without due process.

"Thai authorities have increasingly engaged in a 'swap mart' with neighboring governments to unlawfully exchange each others' dissidents," said Elaine Pearson, the Asia director at HRW.

She urged Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to immediately order a full and transparent investigation into "arbitrary arrests, violent assaults, and forced returns of refugees and political dissidents."

The organization said it had analyzed 25 cases that took place in Thailand between 2014 and 2023 and conducted 18 interviews with victims, family members and witnesses.

It said dissidents from Vietnam have been tracked down and abducted, Laotian democracy advocates have been forcibly disappeared or killed, and a Malaysian LGBTQ rights influencer was targeted for repatriation in recent years in Thailand.

Thai authorities have also detained and unlawfully deported Chinese dissidents and refugees, HRW said.

At the same time, a number of Thai activists have been killed or disappeared in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The group said in a report in February that "transnational repression" was having a "chilling effect" on political criticism and called on countries and international organizations to take action.

It referred to 75 cases of governments in more than two dozen countries -- including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Belarus and Cambodia -- carrying out "human rights abuses... to silence or deter dissent" over the past 15 years.

Methods included killings, abductions, unlawful removals, abuse of consular services, the targeting and collective punishment of relatives, and digital attacks.

Some governments, it said, had also abused Interpol's red notices, which trigger a global alert enabling law enforcement to arrest a person before a possible extradition.

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