Rights activists urge Thai junta to drop sedition charge against lawyer

BANGKOK: Human rights activists on Monday called on Thailand's junta to drop sedition charges against a rights lawyer in the first such case against an attorney since the military took power in a 2014 coup.

Sirikan Charoensiri was charged with sedition and with disobeying authorities on Saturday after she refused to hand over the mobile phones of her clients, 14 student activists who were arrested following a protest against the junta last year.

Since taking power, the junta has moved to silence critics and has come under sharp criticism from the international community for trying civilians in military courts, arresting dissidents and detaining some critics, including political activists, journalists and students, at military facilities for days before releasing them.

Sirikan is the first lawyer to be charged with sedition under the junta, according to iLaw, a Bangkok-based legal monitoring group. The junta had used the law to target pro-democracy protesters, it said.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation made up of judges from around the world, called for the charges against Sirikan to be dropped.

"She was targeted for the job of representing her client," Sam Zarifi, Bangkok-based regional director of the ICJ, told Reuters.

"The junta are using her as an example to frighten other lawyers and activists."

Representatives of the junta were unavailable to comment on Monday, a national holiday.

Sirikan said police needed to produce a warrant in order for her to hand over the phones, something they did not do, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the organisation Sirikan works for.

She faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty of sedition.