Updated: March 04, 2021 04:33 AM GMT
Pro-democracy protesters post notes on the gates of Bangkok Remand Prison during a demonstration calling for the abolition of Thailand's royal defamation laws on March 3. (Photo: AFP)
Thai authorities’ targeting of high school students for their political activism has raised concerns about severe violations of the rights of minors in the Southeast Asian nation.
During a pro-democracy protest on Feb. 28, a total of 23 demonstrators were arrested, with four of them being minors.
The teenagers have been charged with various crimes including resisting arrest and violating an emergency decree that forbids large gatherings.
One 16-year-old boy said he had been assaulted and manhandled by police officers before he was arrested and charged with various crimes.
The teenager said he was shot with a rubber bullet when he was helping another protester. Police officers then pushed him to the ground and proceeded to beat him with batons and kick him.
“They held onto me and tied my arms up behind my back, and then they kicked me a bit more, and then they asked me, ‘Why did you hurt my friends? Why did you hurt my friends?’” the boy told a Thai website that showcases rights violations in the country.
“I said I didn’t do anything because I just got there, but they didn’t care and they continued to stamp on me and repeatedly asked me, ‘Where are your friends?’”
Several other young pro-democracy activists were similarly maltreated by police officers, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators, according to accounts posted on social media.
For several months thousands of young Thais, including high school students, have been staging mass rallies in Bangkok and elsewhere, demanding political reforms in a country ruled by a military-allied government that seized power in a coup in 2014.
The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief, has refused to negotiate and opted instead to charge dozens of young Thais with severe crimes including sedition and royal defamation.
Among those charged with royal defamation, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison per count, have been at least two minors aged 16 and 17. If convicted, they could face years and possibly decades in prison.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision of the authorities to charge young Thais, including minors, over their political views.
“We call on the government of Thailand to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.
Four leaders of the youth-led pro-democracy movement, including college students, have been detained indefinitely on charges of insulting the monarchy.
They have been refused bail repeatedly by the Criminal Court in what rights advocates say is a violation of their basic rights.
“I must say that I was saddened and disappointed [about the court’s decision not to grant them bail],” said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a former rector of Thammasat University in Bangkok who supports youth-led calls for reforms.
“What the four [activists] have been calling for — the reform of the monarchy — is the correct thing to do, especially if we consider the history of monarchies around the world,” he added.