Thailand: Sirikan Charoensiri (June), Human Rights Lawyer
January 24, 2017, 7:31 am
‘In 2004, while I was volunteering to help survivors and victims of the Tsunami disaster which devastated the southern coast of Thailand, I came across the case of an ethnic old man being beaten by law enforcers who accused him of allegedly stealing a radio. I started a discussion with some senior university students about that injustice. I felt he should not be treated that way, regardlessly whether he really committed the theft or not. I wished I had knowledge to defend him, but I was too young.’
That’s the experience that inspired Sirikan Charoensiri, as known as June, to become a human rights lawyer. June is one of the lawyers of ‘Thai Lawyers for Human Rights’ (TLHR), a legal aid and documentation centre set up in 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand, by a group of human rights lawyers in response to the climate of rights and freedom restrictions followed by the military coup in May 2014.
June is originally from Yasothon, a small province in the northeast of Thailand. She moved to Bangkok to attend the Triam Udom School, and then she enrolled to the law degree at Thammasat University. The four university years did not satisfy her with substance of human rights law, which was not a compulsory subject but just a topic in public international law class. Consequently, right after graduation, she started getting into human rights work with an internship for the International Commission of Jurists, receiving a proper training on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Timeline of June’s Judicial Cases
Following the after-hour opening of the Bangkok Military Court to investigate 14 suspects from New Democracy Movement (NDM), the police, led by Pol Lt Gen Chayapol Chatchaiyadet, requested June to conduct a search on her car to confiscate the activists’ phones. June refused to let her car be searched, since the officials did not present a search warrant, and there was no justifiable evidence to conduct the search without a warrant at night. The officials then impounded her car overnight. The court warrant was later presented to conduct the search.
June was officially charged for refusing to comply with an official order without any reasonable cause or excuse after being informed of an order of an official given according to the power invested by law, and an offence of concealing or making away of property or document ordered by the official to be sent as evidence or for execution of the law, under Sections 368 and 142 of the Thai Criminal Code. June is also accused of filing a false police report, under Sections 172 and 174 of the Criminal Code.
June filed a police complaint against the police officials for abusing their office in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code (malfeasance in office). On 12 May 2016, the public prosecutor decided to reschedule the meeting to 27 July 2016 to let her know if the case will be indicted or not, pending the examination of more witnesses. After the first postponement, the prosecutor rescheduled the hearing of prosecution order four times: on 27 July 2016, on 29 September 2016, on 3 November 2016 and on 17 January 2017, due to ongoing investigation of witnesses and evidence. The next hearing is scheduled at 9.30 am on 2 May 2017 at the Dusit District Prosecutor’s Office in Bangkok.
June was first summoned to report to the Bangkok’s Samranrat Municipality Police Station on 20 and 27 September 2016. However, June was not aware of the summons since she was out of the country to attend the 33rd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. She postponed her reporting on the 22 October, when she was informed that she was charged for being an accomplice in the coup commemoration organized by NDM at the Democracy Monument on 25 June 2015, by carrying the activists’ belongings and not letting the officials search her car. The alleged acts, thus, breach Article 116 of Thai Criminal Code, sedition offence, and the Head of the NCPO Order no.3/2015, which prohibits gatherings of five or more persons for political purposes. June will face trial in a military court if indicted since the alleged acts were committed in 2015, prior to the enforcement of the Head of the NCPO Order no. 55/2016 on 12 September 2016 which ceases the practice of prosecuting civilians in military courts for crimes committed after that date.
On 22 November 2016, June reported to the police at the Bangkok’s Samranrat Municipality Police Station, following her being informed of the charges on 22 October 2016. She submitted her statement and a list of three witnesses. On 24 November 2016, the three witnesses were asked to report to the police on 2 December 2016.
In total, June could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
She begun working on access to justice and human rights issues in the southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla, where she had the chance to observe many trials on cases of torture and enforced disappearance. After that, she continued to work with the Association for the Prevention of Torture, training lawyers on the United Nations Convention against Torture. She also collaborated with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative focusing on justice system and human rights in the deep-south. After receiving a scholarship for an LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law at University of Essex, she spent the academic year 2012-2013 in the UK. Once she finished her LL.M, she returned to Thailand and served as a national legal consultant to the NGO International Commission of Jurist, before joining the establishment of TLHR.
Following 22 May 2014, the Thai military, using the name ‘the National Council for Peace and Order’ (NCPO), implemented a new institutional and legal framework which severely limits the exercise of human rights within the country and weakens the rule of law, giving the head of NCPO unaccountable powers. In the name of internal national security, activists, protesters and dissidents have been charged and detained. Before September 2016, the practice of prosecuting civilians in military courts has been frequently used.
Criminal defamation provisions, the sedition law, the computer crime act, and the “crime” of lèse majesté are being used to silence human rights defenders and to restrict their freedom of expression. The prohibition of public gathering of five or more people for political purposes and the Public Assembly Act also have limited the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.
In this scenario, TLHR works on the frontline to address the consequences of these clampdowns. The purpose of the organisation is to raise awareness on human rights violations and assist people who are being arrested, or prosecuted by the NCPO regime, in particular those exercising their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The organisation also runs a 24-hour hotline to provide legal assistance: TLHR staff members give advice in order to increase legal and human rights knowledge. They also use the hotline to collect information on human rights violations and develop trend analysis. TLHR received a human rights award by the French Embassy in Bangkok in December 2014, and it has also been one of the candidates for the Dutch Human Rights Tulip Award in 2015.
Since its establishment, several TLHR staff members have been charged or threatened for their role in investigating human rights violations and protecting the rule of law in the country.
June has been facing three suits of legal actions, all from her role to represent 14 student activists from the New Democracy Movement (NDM) prosecuted for their peaceful protests against the ruling military junta in June 2015, and to conduct advocacy on fair trial rights, the use of military courts and human rights situation in Thailand.
The first trumped-up charge against her is related to the fact that she was accused of concealing the evidence and refusing to comply with the order of officials who wants to search her car without a warrant in front of the Bangkok Military Court, where June was meeting the 14 detained activists. After she denounced this episode, she also received a summons for filing a false report to the police. In October 2016, she has also been accused with sedition offence and for violating the public political gatherings ban, after a meeting with her clients. If found guilty in all cases, she will face up to 15 years in jail, with the case of sedition and ban on political gathering being tried in military court.
June’s visible role of assisting pro-democracy groups meanwhile advocating internationally on human rights situation in Thailand, including at the UN level, are the causes of the judicial harassment she is currently facing, which is a retaliation to her legitimate work as Women Human Rights Defender (WHRD) and human rights lawyer. June also joined the 33rd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council held in Geneva in September 2016. Back from the UNHRC session, she learned the fact that the level of awareness of international human rights community on Thailand’s human rights situation is unfortunately minimal and insufficient. Thailand has been under the military ruling for over two years with significant implications of repression to the rule of law, human rights and democracy but, according to her, the world does not notice it.
‘The attention and pressure of UNHRC and other relevant UN agencies should be applied more on Thailand’s government, to end all exceptional measures which have suspended guarantees of human rights and to stop any intimidation and harassment of HRDs, in order to get Thailand back on track, respect its international human rights obligations and restore democracy’
June is not the only THLR staff member who has been harassed and unfairly persecuted. Duangthip Karnrit and Neeranuch Niemsub, TLHR’s documentation officers, were charged with violation of the ban on political gathering while monitoring the 31 July 2016 Talk of Freedom, even if they were not involved with the organizing team. In July 2016 Noppon Archamas, a TLHR Chiang Mai-based data collection officer, was put under surveillance, harassed and arbitrarily interrogated for allegedly distributing documents presenting arguments against the Draft Constitution. On 5 March 2015, Anon Nampa, a TLHR volunteer lawyer, was summoned for allegedly “importing into a computer false information which may damage national security” for posting Facebook messages that criticized the role of the military in the administration of justice under martial law. On 14 February 2015, Mr. Anon was arrested for violating the political public gathering ban, after he tried to organize, together with other activists, an event at the Bangkok Cultural and Art Center to mark the one-year anniversary of the annulled Thai general election on 2 February 2014.
Criminalisation of TLHR staff members for their role in representing activists, supporting rule of law in Thailand or monitoring human rights activities is not an isolated event, but resonates the climate and environment under which human rights defenders and lawyers have been struggled in the country.
Human rights defenders throughout Thailand continue to face threats, harassments, prosecution, and their legitimate work is systematically suppressed. Abuses against them do not appear to have been effectively and impartially investigated.
“It is a greater challenge for the human rights community to protect and expand safe space for human rights defenders to be able to work and help individuals and communities whose rights have been affected and violated” concluded June.
 Police decided to file the case against the NDM’s attorney with the public prosecutor for preventing car search, the indictment decision by the prosecutor to be announced later pending the request from the attorney to have more witnesses examined, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. https://tlhr2014.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/police-file-case-sirikan-ndm-lawyer/  Lawyer Sirikan reports to police for sedition and political gathering charges, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. http://www.tlhr2014.com/th/?p=2577  Police press charges against seminar observers for first time, Prachatai English. http://prachatai.org/english/node/6523  TLHR staff facing late night harassment by Chiang Mai police, claiming to find people spreading information against the Draft Constitution, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. http://www.tlhr2014.com/th/?p=1092  Thailand: Judicial harassment against Mr. Anon Nampa, FIDH. https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/thailand/thailand-judicial-harassment-against-mr-anon-nampa