On August 6, 2016 Thai police arrested Jatupat Boonphatthararaksa, 25, a prominent activist from the New Democracy Movement (NDM), as he was distributing leaflets criticizing the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta and urging voters in Chaiyaphum province to reject the proposed constitution. He was arrested a day before the August 7 nationwide referendum on the constitution, Human Rights Watch reports. Authorities accused Jatupat of violating the Referendum Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years for any action that discourages voting in the referendum, and also of obstructing justice for refusing to provide fingerprints while in police custody. Jatupat went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest. Prisoners who undertake a voluntary and informed hunger strike are engaged in a form of peaceful expression; so long as they are legally competent, it is contrary to international human rights standards to force-feed them.
Prior to the constitutional referendum, the authorities arrested at least 120 politicians, activists, journalists, and supporters of political movements who had criticized the draft constitution, announced publicly that they would vote “no,” urged voters to reject the draft constitution, or sought to monitor the voting. The junta’s prosecution of opponents to the constitution raises concerns that peaceful critics of the government will continue to be subject to arrest and trial in the lead-up to the elections to return Thailand to democratic rule, tentatively slated to be held by December 2017. Rather than moving toward a greater respect for rights, the military has instead fostered a climate of fear and tightened its grip on government power.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide calls on Thai authorities to immediately end arbitrary arrests of critics and dissenters, and drop criminal charges against all those who peacefully express political opinions.