9 October 2003
Prime minister seeks to restrict freedom of expression during upcoming APEC summit
(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an 8 October 2003 joint ARTICLE 19 and Forum-Asia press release:
THAI PRIME MINISTER SEEKS TO RESTRICT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION DURING APEC SUMMIT
Forum-Asia and ARTICLE 19 urge Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to remove his proposed restrictions on the public's civil rights and liberties during the upcoming APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] summit. These unjustifiable restrictions can only undermine Thailand's image as Summit host.
The Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, has issued a warning that any protests during the upcoming APEC summit in Bangkok will attract retribution. According to published news reports, he warned that village protesters "would be barred from receiving any government funds from its poverty-eradication programmes" and he has also threatened to "blacklist any non-governmental organization taking part in a street rally during the meeting." He cited tight security precautions and the need to save face as justifications for these restrictions.
With many government leaders attending the APEC summit, the need to ensure security is a legitimate concern. However, a blanket ban on protests cannot be justified on security grounds. Furthermore, the need to save face is not a legitimate ground for limiting the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Restrictions based on "convenience" or "image" alone are arbitrary and undermine human rights standards.
Protecting the public's right to freedom of expression is a key requirement for a strong and stable democracy. This fundamental right is guaranteed both under international law and in Article 39 of the Thai Constitution, which states:
A person shall enjoy the liberty to express his or her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicise, and make expression by other means.
The restriction on liberty under paragraph one shall not be imposed except by virtue of the provisions of the law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the State, safeguarding the rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other persons, maintaining public order or good morals or preventing the deterioration of the mind or health of the public.
We urge the Prime Minister to withdraw these unnecessary threats. Thailand can hold a successful APEC Summit without them. Indeed, the best way to ensure that Thailand retains a positive image as host of the Summit is by the government demonstrating the goodwill and confidence to allow the public to exercise its fundamental human rights.