On 20 August, Thai rapper Dechathorn Bamrungmuang was arrested in Bangkok on charges of sedition for singing at a youth-led pro-democracy protest on 18 August, reported The New York Times. He was since released on bail.
“The arrest of and charges against Dechathorn Bamrungmuang for his music is a breach of the right to freedom of artistic expression and the cultural rights, and it violates Thailand’s international obligations under international laws including the ICCPR and ICESCR,” said Dr Srirak Plipat, Executive Director of Freemuse. “We call on the authorities to drop all charges against the artist and ensure that artists and everyone can exercise their artistic expression, including oppositional political opinion without fear.”
Thailand is a state party of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1996 and 1999 respectively. Both international laws guarantee and protect the right to artistic freedom, including artists’ expressions that disagree or criticise governments’ policies and practices.
The New York Times reports that another rapper Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, a member of the rap group Eleven Finger, is also charged with sedition amongst at least six pro-democracy activists. They were also arrested on the same charges. This includes activist Arnon Nampa, detained for staging protests demanding reform of the monarchy.
Thailand strictly criminalises criticism of the monarchy and penalises offenders with a prison sentence of up to 15 years. A crime of sedition is punishable with a seven-year prison sentence.
The arrests and charges follow weeks of youth-led pro-democracy protests, reported The New York Times.
Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, (also known as Hockey) is the founder of the group Rap Against Dictatorship, which performed during anti-government demonstrations.
The group’s song What My Country’s Got released in 2018, in which the band is criticising the Thai authorities, brought the group to fame, but also caused threats of legal actions against artists for criticising the Thai government.
According to The New York Times, Rap Against Dictatorship was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2019.
Freemuse calls for the charges brought against the rappers to be immediately dropped and urges Thai authorities to respect the international obligations under the ICCPR and ICESCR.