Statement: Urgent, endorse statement supporting We Walk..Solidarity in Thailand

Dear Friends, We urgently ask your organisation/ group/ trade union to endorse this statement (below) supporting We Walk…Solidarity in Thailand and demanding that all charges against the peaceful walkers be immediately dropped. On 20/1/2018, 3 teams of 4 people, mostly women, began to separately walk from Bangkok to Khon Kaen, some 450 kilometres, a journey that will take about 28 days. The walk is supported by hundreds of people along the way and is being followed on Facebook. They are demanding the return of civil rights and public participation which were taken away three years ago by the military junta. This peaceful walk is facing repression and eight people have been charged with breaching Article 12 which forbids “political gatherings of five or more persons”. They are due to present themselves at the police station on 31 January. There is huge support for them in Thailand and their actions have reached more than 2.3 million people. But it is also important to gather international support as we are very concerned for the safety of all participants. We Walk has four main themes: universal health care, farmers’ rights, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution which does not guarantee the fundamental right to participation.   
Please send your endorsements by midnight of 28/1/2018 to  cc Please state the full name of your group/organisation and in which country your organisation is based.   Joint Media Statement(Draft) THAILAND MUST RESPECT AND PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS, AND END HARASSMENT AND SUPPRESSION OF RIGHTS OF “WE WALK…SOLIDARITY/FRIENDSHIP” PARTICIPANTS AND SUPPORTERS. Revoke summons against HR Defender Lertsak Kumkongsak  and 7 others member  of People Go Network , and cease investigation and actions against others We, the _____undersigned civil society groups, trade unions and organisations are disturbed by the actions of the Thai  Military government, including the Royal Police of Thailand, that are trying to inhibit the freedom of expression, opinion and assembly by the “We Walk…Solidarity/Friendship ’ action of the people(20/1/2018 – 17/2/2018), being a walk of 4 person teams from Bangkok to Khon Kaen We are appalled by the recent summons issued against 8, including one of walkers, on the alleged crime of ‘Political gatherings of five or more persons…’, when clearly it is inapplicable to actions of less than 5, as in this case. People’s right to participate in governance of their own country It must be stated that it is a fundamental right of people in a country to be able to participate in the governance of the nation. This certainly includes the freedom the of expression and the freedom of opinion, which naturally must include the ability to lobby other people in that nation state, to support a particular view point and/or to make particular demands that will impact how the country is governed and administrated by the existing government. Any good government, governs in accordance with the will of its people, and if the majority aspires for particular changes in polices, laws or governing practices, then the government in power must rightly bow to the wishes of its people – and, not simply ignore the people’s will and continue to govern the nation in accordance to what the existing leader or a minority in control of government wants. As such, any government must never try to supress any personal views and the ability to lobby such opinions and ideas amongst the peoples of the country. This should be the principle applicable in all nations, including democracies, countries temporarily under military rule or even feudal regimes. The government of Thailand, even though still not yet returned to a democratically elected government at this time following the military coup on 22/5/2014, have generally respected this freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and the freedom of peaceful assembly in this case when they allowed the ‘We Walk…Solidarity/Friendship ’ teams of 4 to walk since 20/1/2018 until 26/1/2018 (or now, if they are still walking). However, the Royal Police of Thailand and the government had done some wrongs, in violation of these fundamental values, principles and human rights. These actions need to be condemned, and the assurance of the Thai government need to be obtained to ensure there be no further infringements of these fundamental rights and freedoms, and that the rights of people involved in this “We Walk…Solidarity” are protected hereafter. ‘We Walk…Solidarity’ On 20/1/2018, 3 teams of 4 persons, mostly women, began to separately walk from Bangkok to Khon Kaen, some 450 kilometres, a journey that will take about 28 days. The action, ‘We Walk…Solidarity’ is an initiative of an informal collaboration of a wide range of groups including the Health Security Watch group and People Movement For Social Welfare, Alternative Agriculture Network- Food Security, National Recourse Network- Community Rights and the Academic And Lawyer Network Who Observe On Constitution, Election And Right And Freedom Violation. The objective of the Walk is to make visible the current situation in Thailand, in particular the insecurity and frustration with the increasing suppression of the right to freedom of expression, the  on-going and growing dominance of the military government over all aspects of Thai society, worsening standard of living, and the situation of human rights and justice. The slogans of ‘We Walk…Solidarity/Friendship’, such as ‘We Walk with friends. We Walk to meet friends. We Walk to open a space for those who have no other way to freely tell their stories or be heard.’ reflect the peaceful nature of the Walk that aims to increase awareness, build solidarity and develop a greater participation of people in Thailand in the affairs of their nation. To achieve this, there are also community meetings planned for throughout the journey. People’s participation at all levels is fundamental and essential in any democracy and/or government. This is a peaceful and democratic activity with each team consisting of just 4 walkers, so as not to breach Thailand’s law that prevents the assembly or procession of 5 or more persons UNLESS there is government approval. However, despite all the care taken to comply with the current law of the land, and also the extra courtesy of informing the police even though not required in law, the government of Thailand, in particular the Royal Thai Police, have done (and are still doing) certain things that are wrong, and in violation of the fundamental freedoms and rights of the people. They are as stated below:- 20/1/2018Preventing the walk to commence by about 7 hours a) ‘We Walk…Solidarity’ teams of 4 walkers were prevented from leaving Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, Bangkok at the scheduled time of 9 am by a police blockade. They were delayed for about 7 hours, but finally they were allowed to commence walking at about 4pm, and they started the first leg of their 450km walk towards Ayutthaya. They will break their walk and rest at different points on their walk. 21/1/2018 – Harassment at wee hours of the morning, Arrest and Detention, Denial of Access to Lawyers b) At about 4 am on 21/1/2018, the police woke the We Walk teams who were resting for the night in a temple in Ayutthaya. The police demanded the Walkers to produce their Identity cards for inspection. A Support Vehicle carrying food, water and basic first aid for the walking teams was stopped and searched without a warrant. Not only was the search legally questionable, the action left Walkers without access to water for some time. c) 4 members of the Support Team were then arrested and detained by the police for about 3 hours that morning. Immediate access to lawyers was denied. They were subsequently released. 23/1/2018 – Summoning 1 Walker and 7 others for alleged breach of Peaceful Assembly law d) Warrants have been issued under NCPO Order Number 3/2558 against 8 persons, including Pi Lertsak Kumkongsak, one of the persons walking. The other persons summoned are supporters of the ‘We Walk…Solidarity’ initiative are Mr. Nimit Tieudom, Mrs. Nutchanart Thanthong, Mr. Jumnong Nupian, Mr.Somchai Grajanseang, Ms. Sangsiri Teemanka, Assist. Professor Dr. Anusorn Aunno and Mr. Ubon Yuwa. The 8 are human rights defenders, women human rights defenders, community human rights defenders, environmental rights advocates, health rights advocates and academic rights activists. They are now being accused of allegedly breaching Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015) issued by Prime Minister General Prayuth, the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), pursuant to  section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution created while Thailand was under martial law. Section 44 gives the NCPO and its head unfettered power to do almost anything. Specifically, the alleged offence is a violation of Article 12 of Order 3/2558 (3/2015), which states,  “Political gatherings of five or more persons shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both, unless permission has been granted by the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative.” The 8 have been summoned to appear in front of the authority on 31st January 2018 in Bangkok. This means that Lertsak Kumkongsak, one of the walkers walking to Khon Kean, will have to abandon his walk mid-way, just to respond to this summons, and as such it can be seen as an act with a mala fide objective of terminating the right of the ‘We Walk….Solidarity’ walkers. It would have been more just and reasonable if such summons only asked for attendance after the current “We Walk…Solidarity” had ended. Other Matters – Wrongful harassment of Temples and others who had already consented to allow the “We Walk…Solidarity’ participants place to rest and/or spend the night along their journey to Khon Kean, to withdraw their permission.  Since the ousting of the democratically elected government, the military government now known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), have been changing laws, policies and orders that are affecting the existing rights of communities, including farmers and peasants, that has and will significantly impact the livelihood and rights of the people. Such actions of an interim military government, pending the return of a democratically people elected government of Thailand is wrong. When there is such a coup, the role of the military or military appointed government should be simply the maintaining of the status quo – and certainly not the usurping or eroding existing human rights of the people.   On 22/21/2018, four members of the protest – Lertsak Khamkongsak, Nattawat Uppa, Wasinee Bunthee and Nimit Tian-udom. Commenced a legal suit against the police for their alleged wrongful actions (The Nation, 23/1/2018). As such, the government subsequent action in issuing the summons under of Order 3/2558 (3/2015) seems to be a retaliatory action. Such retaliatory action by the government is abhorred, as it propagates a negative message deterring people to take action or file complaints against the authorities and police when they do wrong, for if they do, the authorities will thereafter come after them. That will only deter people from highlighting injustices, rights violations and even wrongdoings committed by the government, the military, the police and/or their officers. This is yet another reason why the summons against the 8 must immediately be withdrawn. Therefore, a) we call on the government of Thailand, including Prime Minister General Prayut, the head of the NCPO and the NCPO, and also the Royal Police of Thailand, to respect the rights of the persons involved in this legitimate “We Walk…Solidarity’ action; b) we call for the immediate revocation of the Summons to appear issued against Lertsak and the other 7 human rights on 23/1/2018 to appear before the authority on 28/1/2018, for the alleged breach of the law on peaceful assembly; c)  we call for the immediate removal of harassment and/or threats against Temples and others who graciously allowed the participants of the “We Walk…Solidarity” action place to rest and sleep along the road to Khon Kean; d) we urge the authorities to immediately discontinue all actions against participants and supporters of the “We Walk…Solidarity”, and to forthwith apologize for any or all wrongdoings, and ensure that adequate compensation be paid to the victims; e) we call for action forthwith to be taken against the Royal Police of Thailand including Colonel Rittinan Puipanthawong and Maj-General Surapong Thanomjit (the officer allegedly in charge of the police that blocked the commencement of the walk in Bangkok on 20/1/2018), Maj-General Sommai Prasit (the officer allegedly in charge of the harassment and arrest on 21/1/2018 in Ayutthaya) and Lieutenant Colonel Prusit  Khalyhiran, the officer who allegedly caused the issuance of the summons to be issued against the 8 on 23/1/2018); f) we call on Thailand to respect, protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in Thailand.   Some Background Information General Prayuth and the Thai military staged a coup on May 22, 2014, and created the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. On March 31, 2015, the nationwide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution, which allows General Prayuth as the head of NCPO the authority to do almost anything considered “necessary”. This exercise of power is not subject to administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability. Section 47 goes on to state that all such orders are “deemed to be legal, constitutional, and conclusive.” Section 48 further provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibility, and liabilities.” Pursuant to the powers under this section 44, one the order the head of the NCPO issued was Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015) of the Head of the NCPO on Maintaining Public Order and National Security. Of concern here is Article 12 of this Order that states: “Article 12. Political gatherings of five or more persons shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both, unless permission has been granted by the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative.” Summons issued against 8  We Walk members