Thailand

Last Updated 11 October 2020

Thailand is a country which is very rich in its diversity. Once governed by an absolute monarchy (Chakri Dynasty), it is now a constitutional monarchy, where the monarch is viewed as a living god. The nation’s democracy has been punctuated by at least 12 successful coups d’état since 1932.1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/20/thailands-army-says-this-definitely-isnt-a-coup-heres-11-times-it-definitely-was/; https://www.ft.com/content/88970d60-e1b0-11e3-9999-00144feabdc0 The most recet was in 2014, when a military junta established the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), suspended democracy, annulled the Constitution and enforced martial law, including a nationwide curfew and media censorship.2https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/24/thailand-rights-free-fall-after-coup Although the Martial law officially came to an end on 1 April 2015,3https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32152893 the democratic transition has been subject to repeated delays. The first elections since the coup only took place in 2019, after the NCPO had adopted a revised Constitution 4http://www.unesco.org/education/edurights/media/docs/e60903d5f4cb9278215dc0c231ac42a4da007434.pdfgranting the military greater influence in politics. The election has been widely regarded as a means to prolong and legitimize military rule.5https://freedomhouse.org/country/thailand/freedom-world/2020

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy whose King has tremendous influence on Thai politics, government and society.6https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38126928 Under Section 7 of the Constitution, the monarch must be Buddist.

Thailand has no official state religion, and Section 27 of the Constitution protects citizens from discrimination on the grounds of differences in religious belief. However, Buddhism has a privileged status according to Section 67 of the 2017 Constitution, which calls upon the state to “support and protect Buddhism and other religions”. Furthermore, the same article adds that:

“[i]n supporting and protecting Buddhism, which is the religion observed by the majority of Thai people for a long period of time, the State should promote and support education and dissemination of dharmic principles of Theravada Buddhism for the development of mind and wisdom development, and shall have measures and mechanisms to prevent Buddhism from being undermined in any form. The State should also encourage Buddhists to participate in implementing such measures or mechanisms.”

According to Section 31 of the Constitution, freedom to profess a religion and exercise religious worship, however, is permitted only “provided that it shall not be adverse to the duties of all Thai people, neither shall it endanger the safety of the State, nor shall it be contrary to public order or good morals.”

Only five religions are officially recognized by the law: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikh, Christianity. 7https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand Atheism is not recognized and, as such, non-religious individuals reportedly face challenges when accessing public services, as they are required to divulge their religious affiliation when completing the requisite forms and are unable leave the section blank.

The government subsidizes activities of all five primary religious communities. Between 2018-2019, it budgeted 415 million baht (US$13.9 million) for the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture to provide support to officially recognized religious groups. In addition,  it allocated a further 4.85 billion baht (approximately $163 million) to support the National Buddhism Bureau, an independent state agency. The bureau oversees the Buddhist clergy and approves the curriculums of Buddhist teachings for all Buddhist temples and educational institutions. Furthermore, the bureau sponsors educational and public relations materials on Buddhism as it relates to daily life.8https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand/

Education and children’s rights

In 1999, all Thai children were given the right to education under the Education Act. In 2005 all foreign children living in Thailand also gained the same right. By 2009, there was compulsory free education to children of age 12-15 years.

In 2003 the Ministry of Education introduced a course called “Social, Religion, and Culture Studies,” which students in each grade study for one to two hours each week. The course contains information about the recognized religious groups in the country. In 2018, the Education Ministry of Thailand officially announced that Buddhist teaching would be allowed in  at both the primary and secondary levels.

School curricula tend to be conservative on social issues. There are reports of school textbooks labeling LGBT people as “deviant”.9https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf

Family, community and society

Social and cultural values in Thailand are greatly influenced by religion as 93% of the population practice Theravada Buddhism.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand/  Strong emphasis is placed on the role of the family in Thai society.  Especially in small villages, non-Buddhists experience discrimination.  Religious groups dominate the social and cultural landscape.

The attachment to traditional religious values translates into conservative views on gender roles and non-conformist sexualities. Human Rights Watch reports that, despite the adoption of the Gender Equality Act in 2015, broad exceptions allow noncompliance based on religious principles or national security,11https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/thailand#a4e657 while polls show a still widespread view on the role of women as limited to the household.12https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/2/my-take-your-take-womens-rights-in-thailand-and-mens-role Concerning LGBT rights, religion negatively affects the perception of non-conformist sexual orientation and gender identities: Theravada Buddhism views them “either as a punishment for sins in past lives, or as a lack of ability to control sexual impulses and tendencies”.13https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf As a result, discrimination against LGBT is widely reported, whether on the part of the family, authorities or employers.14https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/global_workplace_briefing_thailand_final.pdf; https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Society/Thailand-s-historic-LGBT-bill-exposes-rifts-inside-community; https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf Even worse is the situation in the Southern provinces with a strong Islamic minority.15https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Since the military coup that took place in 2014, freedom of expression has been restricted largely by the government. Despite elections in 2019,  Thailand has seen few improvements in this domain. According to the Amnesty International, the authorities continue to   take action against dissenting voices, filing criminal charges against those who criticize the government, the police or the military.16https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3921572020ENGLISH.pdf The primary instruments of this repression are: the provisions of the Criminal Code punishing sedition (Art. 116) and defamation (Art. 326-333); the Anti Fake News Centre launched in 2019 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to monitor online content and arrest those who oppose the government; and Section 14(1) of the 2016 Computer-Related Crime Act, which allows the government to prosecute individuals for spreading “false” or “distorted” information.17https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/thailand-cyber-crime-act-tightens-internet-control  In short, the government exerts a tight grip on the public and the media, and heavily censors  dissenting voices and unfavourable news.

“Blasphemy”

The 2017 constitution generally provides for freedom of speech; however, laws prohibiting speech likely to insult Buddhism and other religions remain in place. The Sangha Act specifically prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy. Violators of the law can face up to one year’s imprisonment or fines of up to 20,000 baht (approximately $667).18https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Blasphemy%20Laws%20Report.pdf; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand/ The sections 206 to 208 of the Penal Code prohibit the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religious groups. Penalties range from imprisonment of one to seven years or a fine of 2,000 to 14,000 baht ($67 to $467).19http://un-act.org/publication/view/thailands-criminal-code-1956/

Insulting the monarchy

The king is traditionally revered in Thai culture as the protector of the country and of the Buddhist religion.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code (Lèse-majesté) states that anyone “who defames, insults or threatens the King or Queen or the heir apparent or the regent” will be punished with a jail term up to 15 years.20https://library.siam-legal.com/thai-law/criminal-code-royal-family-sections-107-112/ Since the 2014 coup, at least 90 individuals have faced charges under the law.21https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1939428/thailand-needs-to-talk-about-lese-majeste-law However, there has been no definite description on what constitutes the insult of the monarchy, and the law has been widely abused. For example, in August 2017 a law student and activist, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, was sentenced to two and a half years just for sharing on Facebook a critical but otherwise innocuous BBC profile of the new king. While thousands of other users had seen and shared the same article, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa was also a well-known critic of the government.22https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-king-insult-idUSKCN1AV0YN Further, between 2014-2018, prominent activist and writer, Sulak Sivaraksa, faced an investigation under Article 112 after he delivered a speech at Thammasat University in which he questioned whether a 16th Century elephant battle between the Thai King Naresuan and the Burmese Crown Prince Mingyi Swa had actually occurred.23https://pen-international.org/news/thailand-octogenarian-writer-and-activist-faces-15-year-prison-sentence; https://pen-international.org/news/charges-against-octogenarian-writer-and-activist-dropped

Since the democratic transition,  the use of  lèse-majesté law seems to have declined.24https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-protests-monarchy-explainer-idUSKCN2501Q1; https://www.tlhr2014.com/?p=10431&lang=en

Freedom of association and assembly

Between 2014 to 2018, the NCPO banned political meetings and activities. Ahead of the March 2019 elections, opponents of military rule faced considerable harassment.25https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/14/thailand-no-end-rights-crisis Further, the government has used the country’s sedition law, among other legal provisions, to repress peaceful political protesters calling for democratic reform.26https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/27/thailand-more-protest-leaders-arrested

References   [ + ]

1.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/20/thailands-army-says-this-definitely-isnt-a-coup-heres-11-times-it-definitely-was/; https://www.ft.com/content/88970d60-e1b0-11e3-9999-00144feabdc0
2. https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/24/thailand-rights-free-fall-after-coup
3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32152893
4. http://www.unesco.org/education/edurights/media/docs/e60903d5f4cb9278215dc0c231ac42a4da007434.pdf
5. https://freedomhouse.org/country/thailand/freedom-world/2020
6. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38126928
7. https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand
8, 10. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand/
9, 13, 15. https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf
11. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/thailand#a4e657
12. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/2/my-take-your-take-womens-rights-in-thailand-and-mens-role
14. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/global_workplace_briefing_thailand_final.pdf; https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Society/Thailand-s-historic-LGBT-bill-exposes-rifts-inside-community; https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/54ed82784.pdf
16. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/ASA3921572020ENGLISH.pdf
17. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/thailand-cyber-crime-act-tightens-internet-control
18. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Blasphemy%20Laws%20Report.pdf; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/thailand/
19. http://un-act.org/publication/view/thailands-criminal-code-1956/
20. https://library.siam-legal.com/thai-law/criminal-code-royal-family-sections-107-112/
21. https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1939428/thailand-needs-to-talk-about-lese-majeste-law
22. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-king-insult-idUSKCN1AV0YN
23. https://pen-international.org/news/thailand-octogenarian-writer-and-activist-faces-15-year-prison-sentence; https://pen-international.org/news/charges-against-octogenarian-writer-and-activist-dropped
24. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-protests-monarchy-explainer-idUSKCN2501Q1; https://www.tlhr2014.com/?p=10431&lang=en
25. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/14/thailand-no-end-rights-crisis
26. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/27/thailand-more-protest-leaders-arrested

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