Surge in Activist Repression in Thailand, Says Human Rights Watch

BANGKOK – Activists and dissidents seeking refuge in Thailand are experiencing heightened levels of harassment, surveillance, and physical violence, often with the collaboration of Thai authorities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on May 16.

The New York-based human rights organization highlighted a significant increase in the repression of foreign nationals in Thailand over the past decade. According to HRW, Thai authorities have been involved in reciprocal arrangements with other countries to exchange dissidents, particularly targeting critics of the Thai government living abroad. Countries implicated in these exchanges include China, Bahrain, and various member states of the ASEAN regional bloc.

HRW’s report detailed that Thai officials have frequently arrested asylum seekers and refugees, subsequently deporting them to their home countries without due process. “Thai authorities have increasingly engaged in a ‘swap mart’ with neighboring governments to unlawfully exchange each other’s dissidents,” stated Ms. Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Asia Director. She called on Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to launch an immediate, transparent investigation into the arbitrary arrests, violent assaults, and forced returns of refugees and political dissidents.

The organization examined 25 cases occurring in Thailand between 2014 and 2023 and conducted 18 interviews with victims, family members, and witnesses. The report revealed that dissidents from Vietnam have been tracked down and abducted, Laotian democracy advocates have been forcibly disappeared or killed, and a Malaysian LGBTQ rights influencer has been targeted for repatriation in recent years.

Additionally, HRW noted that Thai authorities have detained and unlawfully deported Chinese dissidents and refugees. Concurrently, numerous Thai activists have been killed or disappeared in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In a report released in February, HRW stated that “transnational repression” has had a “chilling effect” on political criticism and urged countries and international organizations to take action.

The February report identified 75 instances of governments in over two dozen countries—including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Belarus, and Cambodia—engaging in human rights abuses to silence or deter dissent over the past 15 years. These abuses included killings, abductions, unlawful removals, misuse of consular services, collective punishment of relatives, and digital attacks. The report also noted that some governments have misused Interpol’s red notices, which issue global alerts enabling law enforcement to arrest individuals pending possible extradition.

HRW’s findings underscore the urgent need for stronger protections for activists and dissidents in Thailand and around the world, calling for a concerted effort to safeguard human rights and ensure accountability for abuses.