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Thailand slammed for ‘double standards’ in prisons

Unequal treatment of ordinary prisoners and inmates from higher social status is common in Thai prisons, says report
Thai student activist Patiwat Saraiyaem (center) accused of insulting the royal family is seen in this file image. The latest annual report from International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) criticized inequalities and double standards in Thailand's prison system.

Thai student activist Patiwat Saraiyaem (center) accused of insulting the royal family is seen in this file image. The latest annual report from International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) criticized inequalities and double standards in Thailand's prison system. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 19, 2024 08:56 AM GMT
Updated: March 19, 2024 09:03 AM GMT

The treatment of prisoners in Thailand is characterized by inequalities and double standards, says an annual report on the Thai penitentiary system from two global rights groups.

The 56-page report jointly compiled by International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) was released on March 19.

It covers developments, trends, facts, and figures related to the Thai prison system in 2023.

The report deplored ill treatment of ordinary prisoners and preferential treatment for inmates with a higher social status, a longstanding feature in the Thai prison system.

The special treatment of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to Thailand last year after spending years in exile, has been cited as an example in the report.

The report, based on interviews conducted by FIDH with former prisoners released at various times in 2023, revealed that wealthy, well-known, or influential prisoners typically enjoyed a wide range of privileges over the general prison population including: sleeping dormitories with fewer occupants; better quality mattresses for sleeping; priority in receiving meals that were more nutritious; and certain levels of impunity when committing disciplinary offenses.

"Authorities must improve conditions for all prisoners"

“In Thai prisons, while most inmates endure sub-standard conditions in violation of their human rights, a few enjoy privileges and special treatment. Authorities must improve conditions for all prisoners without discrimination and ensure they are treated humanely and with dignity in accordance with international standards and Thailand’s human rights obligations,” said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

The report also found that prison conditions remained poor, with ongoing challenges reported by former prisoners in numerous areas, including: conditions of accommodation; punishment; quality of food and drinking water; access to healthcare; work; contacts with the outside world; recreational and rehabilitative activities; and complaint procedures.

Among the few positive developments was the provision of better-quality bedding, reported by most interviewed prisoners, while former female prisoners reported that feminine hygiene products were adequately available.

Overcrowding continued to plague prisons, with 112 (or 78%) of Thailand’s 143 correctional facilities operating above their official capacity.

The number of inmates jailed for drug-related offenses continued to account for the vast majority (75%) of the total prison population.

In addition, for the first time since 2019, the total prison population increased (+4.5%) year-on-year, and, for the second consecutive year, the number of prisoners under death sentence went up (+43%).

Meanwhile, in 2023, Thai prisoners across the country were barred from voting in the general election, which took place on 14 May 2023. This blanket disenfranchisement of up to at least a quarter of a million citizens is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards.

The annual report made numerous practical recommendations for the improvement of prison conditions in Thailand in accordance with relevant international standards.

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